Over the weekend, News & Record Editor and Publisher Jeff Gauger announced in the pages of the Sunday edition and on his blog that the paper’s arts coverage will be underwritten by ArtsGreensboro.

And while Gauger took a casual, almost bubbly tone in his online announcement, the rest of the legitimate journalism world gasped in horror.

Most of the rest of it, anyway… some were trying to figure out how to set up a gravy train like this for themselves.

There was a time that newspapers wouldn’t allow subjects to pay for coverage of themselves. It was the kind of thing that could get you kicked out of press associations and other professional groups. The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists eschews it: “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”

It’s a seismic shift in the way things have always been done around here, too. In the past, it has been the N&R that donated to artistic causes like 17 Days and the Eastern Music Festival. Now, the script has flipped.

Gauger reported that the N&R agreed to run 70 ArtsGreensboro stories over the course of the year. He declined to report just how much money Warren Buffet’s newspaper would be getting for the arrangement.[pullquote]There was a time that newspapers wouldn’t allow subjects to pay for coverage of themselves.[/pullquote]

We wonder if the deal is open to everybody. Can the civil rights museum pay for more stories about social justice? Can a restaurateur pay for more coverage of her cooking?

Gauger touts the development as a response to “changes brought to newspapers by the digital revolution and readers’ shifting habits,” one of the paper’s “new approaches to help pay for the journalism we know you want.”

It’s creative, we’ll give him that. But there’s nothing new about pay-to-play journalism.

What’s new is a seeming disdain for the editorial process at the daily covering the third-largest city in North Carolina. Besides hiring out its arts desk, the N&R has also advertised for three civilian positions on the editorial board, going against a hundred years of newspaper wisdom and denigrating the honor of the title of editor.

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