This week we were confronted with a tough choice at our less- than-nine-month-old newspaper. We were offered a full-page ad that we decided we had to turn down.
Full-page ads, you might have noticed, are not that easy to come by, especially in the current economy. We’re working ex- tra hard to find ways to keep the Independent alive and growing through the financial crisis, and we depend on advertisers to see why it makes sense for them and for the whole community to support local newspapers. Many of you have done just that.
Last week we began to think about how to report fairly and thoroughly the events taking place at the Fine Arts Work Cen- ter in Provincetown, where a group of fellows and others have raised serious questions about management and its respons- es to issues of diversity and discrimination. We asked for in- terviews with people on both sides of the situation, including FAWC’s executive director, Richard MacMillan. He agreed to talk with us on Monday morning. (We had trouble finding peo- ple who would talk on the other side as well.)
Meanwhile, FAWC’s marketing and communications de- partment wrote to say they would like to buy a full-page ad in this week’s paper. Though the deadline for reserving space had passed, we agreed.
On Monday we received the text of the ad — an open letter to the community about the ongoing controversy. No one from FAWC had at that point agreed to talk to us except MacMillan. And then we were told that he had changed his mind and would not be interviewed.
We explained that we saw our job as reporting news ful- ly and impartially, and that we couldn’t do that if people re- fused to talk to us. FAWC’s communications director said he understood and was sure that MacMillan would make himself available.
It didn’t happen. Instead, we were told later that day that MacMillan “wanted to get out in front of the story,” and that letting the letter speak on its own was how he would do that.
So we felt we had no choice. Because buying space in a newspaper to promote one side of a controversy while denying that newspaper a chance to ask questions freely and follow up on the answers is not serving the community’s best interests.
We turned down FAWC’s full-page ad, but we didn’t stop asking questions. MacMillan did finally respond late on Tues- day, right before our deadline, with an incomplete answer to our questions about his involvement in a fund-raising scan- dal at M.I.T. The law firm that was hired by the university to investigate the matter filed its report, he told us, and “I was not mentioned.”
Clearly, that’s not the end of the story.