Plymouth Independent accepted donations from elected officials against its own ethical guidelines
"appearance of conflict jeopardizes the outlet’s perceived neutrality"
The Plymouth Independent accepted donations from multiple prominent Plymouth public officials, including two incumbent state legislators and two school committee members, contrary to the publication’s own ethics policy raising integrity and conflict of interest questions for the fledgling non-profit news outlet.
According to the Plymouth Independent’s Ethics and Practices webpage: “As a news nonprofit, we avoid accepting charitable donations from government entities, political parties, elected officials or candidates seeking public office.”
“We subscribe to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News.”
The board and staff of the Plymouth Independent is populated with a deep roster of veteran journalists with stellar backgrounds including stints at the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the MIT Media lab, Harvard University Nieman Fellowship and WBUR.
Walter V. Robinson, an advisor to the board, was portrayed by Michael Keaton in the film “Spotlight.”
There is no evidence the Plymouth Independent altered news coverage as a result of the donations or that donors had an expectation of favorable treatment, but the appearance of conflict jeopardizes the outlet’s perceived neutrality and mission to build a “firewall between our news coverage decisions and our sources of funding to ensure that our journalism is free from fear or favor.”
The donation and sponsor pages of the publication demonstrate a pattern of accepting donations from elected officials and candidates for office (or the businesses they own) in direct violation of the publication’s own ethical policies to avoid such donations.
The Independent routinely covers public officials who have donated to the non-profit but leaves readers to manually cross reference the donor and sponsor pages for potential conflicts or the appearance of conflict.
Patrick Flaherty, the former Plymouth Selectman, is the clerk and treasurer of the news non-profit. Flaherty, along with Plymouth Independent donor and State Representative Mathew Muratore, are founding partners in EF Senior Care, as disclosed by the Plymouth Independent on Wednesday.
However, the Independent failed to “avoid” a donation from Muratore, a well known and long serving elected official.
Donor and Planning Board Member Birgitta Kuehn was featured in an article regarding Kuehn’s involvement with Community Preservation Committee earlier this month. Kuehn is a high profile Plymouth official but the Independent also failed to “avoid” her donation.
Town Moderator and attorney Steven Triffletti, who represents Kuehn in the Community Preservation Committee matter and was mentioned in the Kuehn article, his law firm Triffletti & Costa also donated to the Independent. No mention of the law firm’s financial support is disclosed in the article, but Triffletti & Costa is listed as a “Changemaker Founding Sponsor” on the sponsor page.
Three candidates for the state representative seat being vacated by Muratore (or a business they own) donated to the Independent: Michelle Badger, Arthur Desloges and Brabo, owned by political newcomer Scott Hokanson.
Badger and Desloges were elected Town officials at the time of their donations in 2023, but the Independent once again failed to “avoid” the donations.
It is unclear if the Brabo donation preceded Hokanson’s recent announcement for elected office.
The parent organization of The Plymouth Independent is Plymouth Rock Publishing a 501c3 non-profit founded last year and according to documents filed at the state Attorney General's Office, the outlet will maintain its non-profit status by “producing explanatory and investigative journalism by using institutional expertise to research and educate the public.”
The Institute for Nonprofit News declares: “Newsrooms in the INN network uphold standards that represent a promise of editorial excellence, ethical behavior and transparency about their funding and practices, a promise to the communities they serve. These standards guide their journalism, business operations, hiring practices and community outreach.” The Institute for Nonprofit News does not publish a list of network members.
Donations received last year from public officials and/or businesses they own include:
Kathleen LaNatra - State Representative
Triffletti & Costa - the law firm of Town Moderator Steven Triffletti
Birgitta Kuehn - Plymouth Planning Board
Michelle Badger - Plymouth School Committee and declared state representative candidate
Vedna Lacombe-Heywood - Plymouth School Committee and League of Women Voters
Arthur Desloges - Plymouth Town Meeting member and declared candidate for state representative
Mathew Muratore - State Representative and declared candidate for state senate
Brabo - owned by declared state representative candidate Scott Hokanson
The Plymouth Independent claims “We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions.”
Mr. Robinson, the board advisor, is a Plymouth resident and 34 year Boston Globe veteran “best known for leading the Globe Spotlight Team’s groundbreaking investigation of the Roman Catholic Church’s clergy abuse scandal.”
Robinson according his bio has an “unwavering commitment to investigative journalism and his dedication to uncovering the truth will help ensure that the Plymouth Independent remains a trusted source of news and information.”
The Plymouth Independent website boasts a prominent “donate” button and an occasional donate pop-up.
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