When the ‘free press’ isn’t free


A free press is one of the hallmarks of our society. But what happens when the “free press” isn’t free?

As a volunteer, I often write and distribute news releases in my spare time on behalf of local charities and nonprofits. Given my familiarity with newspaper standards and local media outlets, I find that helping these organizations spread the word about their activities is one way I can use my particular skills and talents to help them achieve their missions. And 99.9 percent of the time, these news releases are published in local media outlets with no problem – and at no charge.

So, it was with great surprise that I received an email today from in response to a news release I sent about an upcoming charity golf tournament. On its website, declares its editor-in-chief, Michael Gold, to be “a champion of the free press.”

But apparently to Historic City News, the news isn’t free. “Thank you for providing your press release,” the email said. “For the information to be published, follow this link to our secure online order page and complete the form for a COMMERCIAL PRESS RELEASE.” (Their emphasis, not mine.)

That brief message was followed by a link whisking me to a page where I was instructed to fork over $39.99 in order to have this nonprofit’s charity news shared on the website.

“We push all commercial press releases to our social media properties on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and through our syndicated feed using Feedburner…," the site reads. "It all happens automatically when you submit your press release to Historic City News at the low price of only $39.99. We accept VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Card and PayPal to expedite publication of your message.”

In my 30-plus years in the media industry, I have never seen a reputable news outlet demand payment to publish genuine news of community interest, especially when it seeks to inform residents about fundraisers for charities and nonprofits. News releases are entirely separate from paid advertisements, and for a media outlet to insist on payment for news coverage is considered highly unethical. For if the press is to remain free, its news coverage should also be free of any financially motivated conflicts of interest. 

“Thank you for your consideration,” I replied, “but we will instead rely on real newspapers to publish the information for free. As they should.”

The response from was swift. “Look, lady, you solicited us,” the email began. “We get your message in front of tens of thousands of our daily readers for $39.99…. And, aren’t you a paid consultant? A little less self-righteousness would be appreciated.”

After correcting the erroneous assumption that I had been paid to distribute the release, I assured that I would do my best to alert unsuspecting nonprofits that the site’s practices are in fact considered unethical by all accepted standards of journalism. Our exchange concluded when directed me to “Remove our email address from your sucker list of potential free advertising sources….”

For the record, let me assure readers that the Ponte Vedra Recorder, like any reputable media outlet, does not charge to publish news of community events that are of genuine public interest. While we cannot guarantee publication or exact placement in the paper of every news release or tip we receive, we do our best to share as much news about local events and happenings as we possibly can – at no charge.

For those who wish to guarantee placement of their news and have approval over how their information appears, we do offer paid advertisements (and yes, we greatly appreciate the support of our advertisers). But there is no quid pro quo, no purchase required, to share what’s happening in our community. And there shouldn’t be. That’s why we're here.

So, keep sending in your news, Boy Scouts! And that goes for you, too, churches, synagogues, schools, libraries, civic groups, sports teams, businesses, garden clubs, homeless shelters and all the other organizations that make up the rich fabric of life here in Ponte Vedra. We are eager to share your news.

For free.

Jennifer Logue is managing editor of the Ponte Vedra Recorder.