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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

OC Register's university ad deal raises ethics, credibility questions

by Take Two®

Copies of the OC Register slide through the presses. The Register is the country’s 20th most-read daily, with a circulation of about 285,000. Grant Slater/KPCC

Newspapers deliver the news, but the Orange County Register has been making headlines of its own since coming under new ownership last year. At a time when other newspapers are contracting, publisher Aaron Kushner has made a big hiring push and expanded coverage.

But the paper's latest move has some journalists questioning whether the Register is risking credibility at the expense of expansion. Three local schools — UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University — have each agreed to pay $275,000 for positive coverage in weekly sections of the Register.

"These institutions have so much that they do and accomplish each week, that frankly one of our bigger challenges with these sections is going to be what we have the space to cover, even with now having full sections for each of the three schools," said OC Register publisher Aaron Kushner.

The sections would contain ads, profiles and feature stories about the schools written by newspaper staff. The newspaper's move has sparked a backlash on social media and reportedly among some of its own staff.

What the schools have to say:

Cathy Lawhon, spokeswoman for UC Irvine: "...We look forward to sharing our many wonderful stories of academics and research,  campus life and outstanding students, faculty and staff..."

Mary Platt, spokeswoman for Chapman University: "... Universities are fascinating communities in their own right, but the outside public often sees them as the stereotypical “ivory towers,” closed off to all but those who are enrolled as students or who work on the campus.  Chapman wants to throw open the doors of that ivory tower and let a wider readership know about all the exciting things that are happening daily on our campus..."

Guest: Kelly McBride, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute.

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