Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Examiner publisher touts house in story

After his house had been on the market for three months, Baltimore Examiner honcho Michael Phelps decided to advertise it in his own newspaper. Not as an ad, but as a story. A story which failed to note that it was the publisher's house.

The story on page R4 of the March 16 edition of the Examiner carries the headline "Historic elegance" and describes Phelps' house as the week's "Top Pick." The lede says "Today a certain home in Roland Park is described by those who know it as 'elegant' and 'magnificent.'"

Of course the rival Baltimore Sun had a field day with the revelation. "Lots of home sellers would kill for that kind of free publicity, especially since the glowing descriptions — 'elegant' and 'magnificent' in the lede alone — appear in what looks like an objective news article," wrote Sun columnist Laura Vozzella. "Luckily in this case, the seller had an in with the publisher - himself." Vozzella points out that when the article ran, the house had been under contract for six days at $595,000 and she guesses the real estate section was printed in advance. Executives at billionaire Phil Anschutz's Clarity Media didn't return Vozzella's calls and the editor of the Balitmore Examiner, Frank Keegan, hung up after saying he didn't know who owned the home.

Phelps was the publisher of the Balitmore Examiner when it launched in April 2006. When the Examiner group hired Baltimore Sun advertising executive Michael Beatty in November, it gave Beatty the publisher title and elevated Phelps to the position of chief executive officer of the Baltimore-Washington Examiner Group, overseeing Anschutz's papers in both cities.