‘The Pub’ #92: Jacqui Helbert and the ethical hazards of university stations

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Helbert appeared on WDEF, Chattanooga's CBS affiliate.

You could not make up a better cautionary tale about the hazards of universities controlling public broadcasters than the story of Jacqui Helbert’s firing.

The head PR flack for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fired Helbert last month from her reporting job at WUTC, the university’s NPR station. That a flack had the power to fire a journalist is ethically troubling all by itself. Add to that the element of state legislators who control the university’s purse strings complaining about her work, and you have perfect storm of conflicting interests.

This week’s episode of The Pub is partially an adaptation of an article I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review. We revisit what was arguably the first high-profile case of interference with public media content (1980’s “Death of a Princess” controversy), get some dish from a WUTC insider, and discuss better ways to run a university station with Judith Smelser, Ted Krichels and others.

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We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.