The Alexandria (VA) Times reports that Alexandria News co-founder and education reporter Carla Branch was covering the Alexandria City Public Schools while the school district paid her $75 an hour to serve as a communications consultant.
“A confidant of the superintendent, she advised [him] on how to boost the district’s image, including the handling of an independent audit that exposed mismanagement in the district’s capital improvement budget,” reports the Times.
Branch also wrote press releases for the school district, then published them on her website.
“Alexandria News co-founder Roger Digilio warned Branch that consulting with ACPS might be perceived as an ethical conflict but sanctioned the relationship,” report David Sachs and Derrick Perkins.
I’m told that Branch, who was paid about $11,000 for 150 hours of work, disclosed her consulting work only after being called by the Times and realizing that the rival outlet would write about her side job.
She wrote on Monday:
Was this a conflict of interest? To ensure that there was not, I signed a confidentiality agreement with ACPS [Alexandria City Public Schools] at the beginning of the contract, agreeing not to use any information I obtained in the performance of my duties under the contract for any other purpose. I also did not discuss any alexandrianews.org coverage with ACPS staff during the course of that coverage. No member of the ACPS staff tried to influence alexandrianews.org’s coverage of issues nor did I obtain information for those stories in the course of work I performed under my contract.
UPDATE: I asked Branch to comment and she sent this email:
“My contract with ACPS has been public knowledge from the beginning and I have discussed it widely with any number of Alexandrians. Had I believed it was a conflict, I would not have bid on the contract nor would I have openly discussed it with hundreds of people over the past six months. I even discussed the matter with another reporter sometime ago. The folks at the Alexandria Times were among the last to know.”