When a salesman at a Chattanooga station decided to sell its newscast last year, it seemed so ludicrous that we had some fun with it on this page in a parody of Chattanooga Choo Choo ("Pardon Me, Boss, I Sold the Chattanooga News Crew"). We figured that, as unlikely as it was to be repeated, there might just be another salesperson in some small market under increasing pressure to sell, perhaps with owners lacking a strong journalism history, and that he or she might benefit from an over-the-top take on what should be transparently obvious: news cannot be for sale. The small market turned out to be Pittsburgh and the owners none other than Cox. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and confirmed by the station, a WPXI salesman tried to sell the reportage of the county fair to the county fair: $15,000 for a package deal, with an anchored report going for $2,000 and a live weathercast for the same. The GM attributed the pitch to an inexperienced sales staffer, which we believe. The anchor being hawked disavowed any knowledge, and we believe him, too. But if it can happen again in a market as large as Pittsburgh with owners with the credentials of a Cox, then there is a problem. The vaunted and useful wall between editorial and advertising needs to be lowered just long enough for the two to prepare guidelines for salespeople on the difference between selling and selling out.
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