FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) — Strong words from Allen Count Commissioner Nelson Peters Wednesday night, after watching an ABC21 Digging Deeper investigation “Buying the News.”
Peters sharply condemns the manner in which the City of Fort Wayne is using the website Input Fort Wayne.
Input Fort Wayne is a recently launched online magazine that claims to be editorially independent.
However, it is sponsored, in part, by the same local government agencies that distribute its articles as evidence of successful public projects.
The City regularly sources articles from Input Fort Wayne. It reshares those articles through its social media pages – as if the stories are from an independent, objective news publication – and never explicitly identifies its contractual relationship with the private, third-party media site on any of those posts.
In a recent tweet from Mayor Tom Henry’s Twitter page, he shares an Input Fort Wayne article on how he “is using social media to better communicate and engage with residents.” It’s this tweet that has the county commissioner now questioning the website’s editorial independence.
“They are not an independent online magazine,” said Peters in an interview Thursday afternoon. “They are for us [Allen County] a marketing tool.”
Peters is the Allen County official who signed the initial contract with Input Fort Wayne in 2017, and again to renew the contract in 2018.
Several hours after Wednesday’s interview, Peters spoke with one of our reporters over the phone and sent our Digging Deeper team a written statement:
“Now that I’ve had a little bit of time to reflect, I really should have underscored the message that politicians should not dilute what I believe to be a good economic development tool for their own personal gain. Shame on the City. This is not what this product was intended to provide. If we choose to do another contract year, I will work to get language inserted that will support that notion, as well as to ensure greater transparency.”
Our Digging Deeper team uncovered contracts between the site and the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County – both of which contribute funds directly to the site. In return, city and county officials are invited to editorial meetings in which they can “shape stories.”
Scroll to the bottom of the website and you’ll find a montage of logos representing supporters (including the official government seals for the City of Fort Wayne and Allen County) – though no explanation of the financial contributions or how they shape the content.
Because we received Peters’ statement after hours, we are in the process of reaching out to the City for a response to Peters’ remarks and hope to bring you that response Thursday evening.