An Unhealthy Impact on Local Reporting

"A hospital complains about a reporter and pulls ads from the paper. The paper reassigns him. The paper -- offered three chances -- declines to deny that one caused the other," summarizes the Columbia Journalism Review. CJR was following up on a Wall Street Journal article about Carilion Health System, which is Roanoke, Virginia's sole healthcare provider. Since Carilion established a local monopoly, "health-insurance rates in Roanoke have gone from being the lowest in the state to the highest." In 2006, independent local doctors concerned about Carilion's impact on the community and their practices launched the "Coalition for Responsible Healthcare." Roanoke Times healthcare reporter Jeff Sturgeon reported on the controversy. But the paper "moved Mr. Sturgeon off the health-care beat after Carilion complained repeatedly about his coverage. Carilion says it communicated its displeasure to the paper's editors, but never asked that Mr. Sturgeon be reassigned. Carilion withdrew most of its advertising from the paper, but says it did that as part of a reallocation of its ad budget." Roanoke Times' managing editor told CJR, "We feel like we cover Carilion better than any other news media organization." But he wouldn't explain Sturgeon's reassignment to transportation, saying, "We don't get into personnel decisions and why we change beats."