The following was reported by Colin Wolf, digital editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and is reprinted here by permission.
An Instagram photo from October 24 shows a woman next to a massive pickup truck lined with a custom wrap showing President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence giving two enthusiastic thumbs up, along with their re-election campaign slogan, “Keep America Great Again.” The caption of the Instagram post reads “Meet Danielle Anderson, President of the Flagler County Republican Club.”
Anderson is also a reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a Gatehouse Media property and the area’s largest daily covering Volusia and Flagler counties.
“As a mom, journalist, activist and community influencer, she’s making strides with the Flagler County Republican Club,” continues the post. “We just don’t know how she does it all!”
Anderson’s profile on the Flagler Republican Party website confirms her role as the GOP’s club president and that she’s the owner of Ella Notorious, LLC a “public relations and media company.” Her profile page hasn’t been updated in over four years. Posts on the GOP site under the same byline as her company include “Flagler Republicans Rock The House for 2020,” a press release for a Trump 2020 rally from last September, and a “What Governor Rick Scott has Done for Florida” story from 2014.
Anderson’s most recent story for the Daytona Beach News-Journal is also about Florida politics.
Posted last week and titled “Senator’s visit boosts Flagler’s Teens-in-Flight program,” Anderson’s piece is essentially a glowing write-up of Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s tour of a local flight program. “On Friday, Flagler County-based Teens-In-Flight received a boost when U.S. Sen. Rick Scott dropped by to visit with students, instructors and board members of the aviation nonprofit,” reads the story.
An accompanying photo, by Anderson, also shows a room filled with Republican leaders like Scott, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, and Palm Coast City Councilman Jack Howell. (Staly sits on the Teens in Flight board. Howell is the organization’s director.)
Nowhere in the article does it mention Anderson’s affiliation with the local GOP, and how she’s simultaneously covering the same politicians she helps elect. And, none of Anderson’s other, less political, stories for the paper even mention that she owns a PR company.
“Danielle Anderson has been a freelance community correspondent for The Flagler/Palm Coast News-Tribune, a free weekly distributed in Flagler County, since 2012,” tweeted News-Journal editor Nick Klasne.“She does not and has never covered government meetings or politics. Her political views are her own business.”
Other News-Journal reporters also defended Anderson’s dual positions.
“That I’ve never, before today, noticed Anderson’s politics, speaks a lot to her ability to cover w/o visible bias,” tweeted Casmira M. Harrison. “That I get innumerable emails suggesting we’re a leftist rag despite this revelation, says even more. Should she drop a role? Maybe. But it hasn’t showed on the pg.”
As others have pointed out, Anderson’s byline is clearly on a Florida political story and while her personal politics are most definitely her own business, working for a political party that you’re supposed to objectively cover for the region’s largest daily newspaper, is in fact a giant conflict of interest that readers should be aware of.
“Danielle is a freelance writer who covers community events in Flagler County,” said News-Journal editor Pat Rice in an emailed statement. “She doesn’t cover the government of Flagler, politics or hard news events. Flagler County is an important part of our market and we want to provide thorough, transparent and unbiased coverage for the benefit of our readers. We are aware of her involvement in Flagler politics, so we limit her assignments to community features and events.”
Of course, every paper has their own code of ethics, but most organization’s rules typically fall under the same guidelines outlined by the Society of Professional Journalism, which states: Journalists should “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts,” and “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”
Creative Loafing was unable to reach Anderson for comment. [Anderson told FlaglerLive in an email: “I think that it’s a shame for a blogger who does not know me, my work or our community to attempt to politicize a visit by a US Senator to a nonprofit organization that supports the children of military family members lost in combat or wounded, to get a few clicks. It is the exact opposite of everything journalism stands for. My professional and personal activities have never crossed paths and I am diligent about maintaining the highest possible professional and ethical standards, while exercising my right as a private citizen to participate in the political process.”]
“Newspapers have nothing without credibility,” tweeted Scott Travis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Sun Sentinel. “Allowing the local Republican (or Democratic) head to write op eds is fine. Paying them to write news stories? I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation.”
In an email response to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Klasne wouldn’t speak much on the issue, if other writer’s have similar conflicts of interest, or if he believes its the paper’s responsibility to disclose information of this nature to the public.
Klasne did however attack my credibly for tweeting about this story before writing about it, and he also referred to a screenshot of Anderson’s most recent article and the photo of her next to a Trump-themed truck as “unrelated images” and “fact-less nonsense.”
“I repeat: Danielle is NOT and NEVER has been an employee of The News-Journal,” said the editor. “She is a community correspondent — a freelancer — who is paid by the piece and receives no other compensation or benefits from the company.”
Klasne did not say if Anderson will continue to write for the paper in this capacity, but he did take the opportunity to put out a call for new contributors on Twitter.
“If you live in Flagler County and are interested in freelance work, contact me,” tweeted Klasne in the same thread. “We pay freelancers by the piece.”