Seattle Times Company Donates Ad Space to Campaigns

This week the Seattle Times Company, publisher of The Seattle Times newspaper, announced that they would be donating ad space in the newspaper to support two Washington State political campaigns: the “Yes on R-74 Campaign” (a referendum supporting Same-Sex Marriage in the state) and the Republican candidate for Governor Rob McKenna as a pilot project to prove the worth of paid political advertising in newspapers at a moment when such investment by campaigns is dwindling. The Times is the only remaining daily newspaper in Seattle following the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s move to web-only in 2009. The first of the full page ads, which are considered independent expenditures and the content of which is not coordinated with McKenna’s campaign (or the Seattle Times’ newsroom, for that matter), appeared in Thursday’s newspaper and will continue this week. The value of the contribution of ad space in support of the McKenna campaign, at market rates, is $75,000 so far and it is believed a similar value will be given as an in-kind contribution to the Washington United for Marriage campaign which is advocating for the approval of Referendum 74.

The Seattle Times newsroom has a comprehensive article about the controversy: “Times Co. criticized for McKenna, gay-marriage ad campaigns” and The Stranger, an independent weekly newspaper in Seattle, also has strong coverage of the story on their website’s blog called the SLOG, including their news item about the ads, questions raised by Rob McKenna’s Democratic opponent Jay Inslee and responses by The Seattle Times company and some of the reporters in the Seattle Times newsroom.

The Times Company’s spokeswoman Jill Mackie describes this move as a “one-time pilot project aimed at demonstrating the power of print advertising” in an interview with The Stranger. The Times has previously endorsed both the Republican candidate for governor and the pro R-74 campaigns in this election cycle. Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman said in the Times’ article that the Seattle Times news department “was not part of the discussion or the decision to do this.” In the same article the Times quotes Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute: “It’s not the newspaper’s problem; it’s not the publisher’s problem; it’s not even the readers’ problem; it’s the problem of the reporters who are covering these issues and these candidates. Their credibility at stake.”

Paid political advertising in our national newspapers is not new, and is not under oversight at this moment. We must look closely at the Seattle Times’ leadership and ethics as a company that intends to buy advertising in their own product to support one particular position on a electoral vote (R-74) and one partisan political candidate, while also attempting to maintain an effective and neutral newsroom. I, for one, am angry and confused about the handing of these expenditures (their planning, their placement, their timing) no matter the possible benefits each campaign might receive from the Times Company’s donation. I have positions on both of the campaigns that are at the center of the Times’ marketing stategry and that does not get in the way for a moment about my anger of how this is being done. It is not about the issues in the campaigns, I see the issue as how a newspaper company can so clumsily be trying to help swing races in this manner. The ethical shortcomings are vast and disheartening. But it remains to be see if this is a smart business decision, as I cannot help but admit, that might be the only avenue the Seattle Times Company has left: growing its business of selling political adverts at the cost of further undermining its own editorial divisions. This could indeed be a smart business decision, that least the newspaper’s readership and in turn our democracy in a far less informed place.

There are a lot of questions, and way too many speculations to indulge in here. But have any of our readers heard of similar programs which blur the business of a newspaper so much as the Seattle Times Company placing their own branded ads into their paper alongside editorial pages? And what must the staff think about this inside work-around on political fundraising and expenditures? There are rumors of a Seattle Times staff rebuttal to how they are being treated (for example: this momentous decision happening behind their backs) but also expressing their concern for the future of their reporting careers in this city in the possible wake of the paper losing credibility amongst some sources and voters.

This will be a test case to watch. Can you think of any other ones like it that we can see and compare with? Interesting times in my home town, no matter.

David Kasnic’s “Give Me Time”

David Kasnic shared his work with me a few months ago, and we had a beer at a nice seedy Ukrainian bar in New York when I was last in town. He’s from the Pacific Northwest originally, like myself, and he is finishing a degree in photojournalism at Western Kentucky University. I wanted to ask him a few questions about this moment in his career and the pictures he has made lately.

Where did you come from, where did you grow up, how did you end up studying photojournalism?
I grew up in Washington State in a small town called Wenatchee, which is located in the middle of the state and is about two hours away from Seattle. I think it was probably sophomore year of high school when my best friend Evan got a point and shoot camera for Christmas and I fell in love with it more than he did. I mean, I think he liked it, but I was really into it. I don’t think we were really into taking serious pictures, just funny stuff. Pictures of friends mooning the camera, raising hell in grocery stores, mostly throwing things out of cars. Both of us were in this photography class in high school where we got to use both film and digital and I think that’s where I really fell in love with photography was in that class. I think the only things I took pictures of were concerts, skateboarding and gross shit my friends did, but I had a good time. I knew by the time high school ended that I wanted to start taking photography seriously, whether that meant studying it in college or not. I wasn’t able to go to college right off the bat because I kind of dicked around in school and never really took the right classes, the right tests, etc. After a year of hustling pretty hard at a community college in Seattle and working part time washing cars at Toyota of Bellevue, I was able to start applying to four-year schools. I applied to Western Kentucky University one day, thinking I wouldn’t get in, and a week later, my parents got a letter in the mail saying I was accepted. I’ve been at WKU since 2008.

Can you give some introduction to the pictures you have on your website?
Basically, I’ve been photographing my life for two or three years. At times I was focused. It wasn’t so scatter brained. I had a purpose of what I was trying to do. Mind you it was things like sex, drugs and rock n’ roll because that’s what I was influenced by. I grew up loving skate and punk rock culture, and I guess I knew even when I first starting to take pictures in high school that I wanted my first thing, project, body of pictures, whatever, to be raw, in your face, a depiction of sensational partying and a carefree lifestyle.

Are you going to be a photographer when you graduate?
I’m trying to figure out where photography and making a living will meet for me or if that will ever be the case. Am I going to photograph, work on projects and strive to keep making better photographs? Yes.

You said to me that you’re interested in moving beyond photographing yourself and friends, “personal projects”. Do you think this reflects anything larger about your interest in photography? There seems to have been lately an increased respect for ‘me’ photographs as an alternative to ‘traditional’ photojournalism of flying overseas to cover pressing international issues. Do you see any changes happening in the industry or the work of other photographers that you find interesting?
I’ve been influenced by so many different things but when I first started to really dive into photography, the photographers that interested me the most took me on a journey through their own life or of someone or the someone’s close to them. I think that was because of a lot of things, but mostly my age. When I had talked to you about this before I think I should have said I’m interested in doing something different just to change things up. I don’t really know if moving beyond photographing myself and the people in my life will ever happen or if it should for that matter, but I’m going to do other things as well to grow as a person.

I don’t really know about an increased respect for ‘me’ photographs. People have been doing that shit for years. To me, and most of the people I have great respect for, who are involved in photography in some way, shape or form, all photographs are equal, whether they are from home, a sporting event or world conflicts.

You mentioned something to me once about being able to ‘morph’ and fit in wherever you are photographing .. skate people, drugs, music. Maybe these mirror ‘phases’ in your own life. Tell me something about this idea, of how you personally work well with your subjects, how close you become to them.
I think my relationships with the people inside my photographs add something for sure, I think but I’m not sure if the work I’ve done so far tells a “story”. I think I’ve been fortunate to get help from other photographers and editors to get my collection of photographs on one topic from the past three years edited into different narratives but I’m not sure if they’re stories per say.

Who is doing work that are you excited about these days?
Sophie Borazanian’s work, Mustafah Abdulaziz’s Memory Loss, Alex Welsh.

What do you take from multidisciplinary approaches to inspiration? What are you listening to or looking at that we should know about but probably don’t?
I think people should know about Austin Koester. He goes to school with me but this isn’t a friend plug. His work is great.

So is there a title that fits for these portfolios?
I think “Give Me Time” suits it best. Being that I’m still really trying to find myself behind the camera, and I think that comes across in my pictures, that I’m really still trying to figure what I’m trying to say.

Matt Lutton in Perpignan and US

I’ve been traveling and working a lot lately around Serbia in the last month, hence my lack of interesting posts, and I am taking off in a few hours for the Visa pour L’Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France. I’ll then be back in the United States (Seattle and New York City) from September 6 through October 24, before returning to Belgrade. If you’re in Perpignan and want to meet up, be sure to send me an email or track me down. Same if you’re in the States.

I also wanted to share a couple of places where my work has been published recently:
The New York Times Lens Blog published a feature about my project in Bosnia “This Time Tomorrow” to coincide with the 15th Anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in July. Please have a look at the nice piece that James Estrin put together.

The Sunday Times Magazine in London also published three pages of my project “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, about the destruction of a Roma community in Belgrade. The article and web gallery are behind their paywall but you can see clips on my website.

I look forward to getting back to regular posting and sharing some of what I’ve been up to soon. Happy end of summer everyone!