Friday, October 20, 2006

'View' Stint May Pose Conflict for NYT Scribe

'View' Stint May Pose Conflict for NYT Scribe

A New York Times reporter got a shot at TV stardom earlier this week, but her big break might end up raising some awkward questions for the paper.

Lola Ogunnaike, who covers television and other entertainment topics for the paper, filled in as "special guest co-host" on Monday's edition of ABC's syndicated chat fest "The View." She came across as remarkably poised and telegenic, especially for someone who works at a newspaper, where reporters are not generally renowned for their charming and personable natures. Ogunnaike held her own with her three co-hosts, including the formidable Rosie O'Donnell, who initially flubbed her name (introducing her as "Loga"). Ogunnaike relaxed enough to joke about her personal life, revealing that, for example, she did not live with her boyfriend before marrying him. "My mother -- I love her -- she has great advice, and she was like, 'Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?'" She added mischievously that her husband has "enjoyed a few milkshakes since then."

Readers of the New York Times who don't watch "The View" may be surprised to learn all this, because the paper has not seen Ogunnaike's on-air moonlighting as news that is fit to print, even though she has recently written about other ABC shows. In fact, two of her three most recent articles concerned ABC. On Sept. 28, she published a long, flattering story spotlighting Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC's biggest hit, "Grey's Anatomy." And on Thursday -- three days after her "View" appearance -- she delivered another favorable piece, about how the makeup and costume designers on ABC's new hit "Ugly Betty" make actress America Ferrera look garish and nerdy. Neither article disclosed Ogunnaike's association with "The View," which has evidently been in the works for months. The program says she sent producers an audition tape in July.

Ogunnaike did not return a phone call and email requesting comment. When Channel Island asked whether editors had approved her ABC stint and whether she had been paid for it, New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis emailed back: "These are all fair questions, but since they relate to an individual employee, we cannot comment."

Mathis did not immediately return a follow-up email asking about the paper's ethics policies regarding conflict of interest disclosures and public statements made by reporters. In an Oct. 8 column concerning controversial comments made by another New York Times reporter, Byron Calame, the newspaper's public editor, quoted company policy as saying that "news staffers appearing on radio or television 'should avoid expressing views that go beyond what they would be allowed to say in the paper.'"

As for "The View," the producers seem happy with Ogunnaike's performance.

"Lola sent me a tape that underwhelmed me, but she was terrific in the interview so we gave her a shot," executive producer Bill Geddie wrote in an email. "The New York Times connection was unimportant. In fact, it probably worked against her. Newspaper people often don't translate to television and this is, first and foremost, a lively entertainment show and experience counts. Despite all of that, Lola blew us away. She was funny, prepared, and personable. We plan to have her back again soon."

UPDATE: Mathis, the New York Times' spokeswoman, did email back regarding the newspaper's ethics policy, directing Channel Island to "Ethical Journalism," a 2004 booklet given to Times employees. That policy seems to offer some wiggle room to Oguinnaike and other reporters in similar situations. A passage governing appearances by reporters on broadcast outlets states that "a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times." It's unclear how those guidelines would govern Oguinnaike's stint on "The View." But a different section of the booklet says that potential conflicts of interest should be disclosed to supervisors, who may decide to change the reporter's assignment area.

In addition, a spokesman for "The View" said that Ogunnaike was paid "AFTRA scale" for her appearance - that is, the minimum amount contractually negotiated by the broadcast performers' union.