D-News rumors, fact or fiction?

Josh Loftin, the former Deseret News staffer who now blogs at City Weekly, has a blog post up today wondering why everyone isn’t all over the “Deseret News About To Lay Off Half Its Staff” story that he broke last week.

The blog’s tone — it feels a bit hurt, if not whiney —  is that he thinks the rest of us have dropped the ball, or are being told to drop the ball — the “neutered media” crack in the headline says a lot.

I’m not the business editor at the S-E, but I know why Wasatch Rambler Inc. hasn’t been all over it: Nothing, yet, to cover.

There’s nothing yet to cover because, as I have learned from long sad experience, reporting rumors is a good way to get egg on your face. Right now, all this story is is rumors.

Josh notes his blog has been picked up by a few other blogs, and posted on some other news media briefly, but that’s it. When the sort-of-imminently predicted date of doom arrived last Friday nothing happened and the D-News management posted a brief note saying absolutely nothing, but saying it very nicely.

Is there more to the rumors? 

I could start calling all the people I know at the D-News, most of whom used to work at the S-E, but I have a problem with that. To do a story, or even a column, I’d want to use names, not the “reliable source” stuff that Josh is doing.  To use names, I’d have to ask my friends to risk their jobs.

I would rather not do that.

I’ve been where the D-News staffers are. The S-E has gone through two ownership changes in my time here, and during the second we really did wonder if we were going to have jobs at the end of it. We were told then, as I am sure D-News staffers are being told now, to refer all media inquiries to the management and make no statements ourselves. Penalty for violation: dismissal.

One can, I suppose, take a stand that it is the public’s right to know and as a journalist I should be willing to go public and sacrifice even my job for that sacred goal even if it is my newspaper going under or being sold. But the truth is that corporate decisions are the pervue of the corporate owners of whichever newspaper one works for.

When you hire on you make an agreement to be loyal to your company and its owners — if you have a problem with that, you are free to go elsewhere, and many at the S-E have (some to the D-News).

If you want to keep your job, you follow the company rules. It is their bat, their ball and their vacant lot. I’m an employee, not management.

I am supremely confident that the staffers at the D-News have no idea what is going to happen. All they have to deal with is internally generated rumors, which can be toxic. I’m also supremely confident they’re scared witless.

Why not protect my friends but do a story based on Josh Lofton’s sourcing and reporting?

I don’t know Josh. More important, I don’t know his sources. I don’t know his motives. I am sure his motives are wonderful and his souces are solid gold, but If I do a story, and I get sued, I have to hope that he’s right and that he’s willing to come to court and drag his sources along to save my butt.

How likely is that? No smear on Josh, but I’m going to guess “not likely.” Again no smear on Josh, but he wouldn’t be the first newspaper reporter to make stuff up, either. Not saying Josh is, just saying. Judith Miller anyone?

And who knows if his sources are telling the truth? This would not be the first time a source fed a reporter a pile of horse cookies. 

And, really, is it a story worth pursuing by outsiders?

Newspaper cover news, and the fate of a major daily is news, but corporate decisions really aren’t final until they are final. Rumors are fun, but I’m willing to wait until the D-News management drops the hammer. The history of journalism in Utah is long and storied and this will be another chaper.

Having said that, the D-News does have a story in today’s paper about the formation of a “editorial advisory” board (click) which is full of things upon which to speculate, such as the line that the paper’s goal includes “Aligning our organization to honor the principles espoused by our ownership.”

That would be the principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints. What does that mean?

Speculate at will, just like about all the rest.

Share
This entry was posted in Blogging the Rambler and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to D-News rumors, fact or fiction?

  1. Bob Becker says:

    Charlie wrote:

    “Nothing, yet, to cover.” Yup. Exactly right. Nothing to cover as news yet, beyond the DN editors’ “no comment” statements. As gossip for a blog, ok. As news, no.

    And Charlie noted of the blogger going with the rumored mass layoffs at the DN this:

    I don’t know his sources.” Again, exactly right. Wish the SE’s editorial page editor had satisfied himself about the “1% Transaction Tax” letter writer’s sources before he published the letter. He should have.

  2. Mark Shenefelt says:

    Like we really need a pack journalism frenzy over the Deseret News just because a tabloid weekly blogger posts an anonymously sourced entry. It’s embarrassing that he’s complaining about the response to his scoop.

    Another question: How many regular news consumers out there actually give a rat’s shanks about the D News, or any other paper, anyway? We’re navel-gazing.

  3. Bob Becker says:

    MS:

    You ask: “Another question: How many regular news consumers out there actually give a rat’s shanks about the D News, or any other paper, anyway?”

    You’d better hope they do, Mark.

    And a point of semantics: I really dislike calling newspaper readers “news consumers” as if reading the news were on a par with picking a tube of toothpaste or a bottle mouthwash off the shelves. It’s not. It’s more important than that. I dislike that term almost as much as I dislike hearing university administrators refer to students as “customers” or hearing one lecture faculty on the need to “improve customer service.” If that’s all a university does, push a “product” to “customers,” and nothing more, we can save the state a bundle by shutting down and sending all our “customers” over to the University [politely so called] of Phoenix or Kaplan or ITT or Stevens-Henager or other business-model vocational schools claiming to be colleges to shop for “product” there —- and at much much higher prices.

  4. Neal Humphrey says:

    I think the Kearns family is buying the DesNews …

  5. Josh Loftin says:

    Charles, you are doing exactly what I’ve said the Deseret News should have done from the outset: Make the issue about me, not them. Challenge my ethics, my reporting and even invoke the “I’m not saying he made it all up, but…” argument. And, although you don’t do it, challenge my motive and point out the conflicts that I make apparent in the original blog post. That would a) distract everyone, including their staff and b) scare other media away from even more.

    Yet, they haven’t, nor have they actually denied anything I reported. And that is my whole point. You know people at the D-News? Call them, confirm off the record what I reported, then simply ask the Deseret News leadership whether there is any truth to any of the rumors. I understand the risks of a “reliable source” story very clearly, and why it would make publication in a mainstream media outlet sketchier. I just want people to actually challenge the powers-that-be and ask the hard and insubordinate questions, instead of accepting their meaningless statements as proof that I’m wrong.

    If you get dragged to court, I will be the first one supporting you. Whether my sources follow is up to them, because like you said, it’s their jobs on the line. I protected them because they have absolutely nothing to gain, except pride, by talking to me. That also makes me trust them greatly. As for “a source feeding me a pile of horse cookies,” that would have to be a well-concerted effort because I have more than a dozen sources, in different departments and of different managerial levels, telling me very similar things.

    I stand by my reporting. While you may consider a blog something less than a news story and, therefore, an okay place to, say, misspell somebody’s name, I think a blog should carry the same factual weight as a news story. What is different for journalists is that the style and analysis aspects can be freer.

    The Deseret News is an institution. It is owned by the Mormon Church. It employs almost 200 people. It is a very important “corporation” in Utah. Their collapse, I would contend, portends much bigger things. Yet right now, I am about the only one asking the questions. That’s not me being arrogant, that’s me being disappointed.

  6. Charles Trentelman says:

    Josh,

    i’m confused –You say I’m doing what you said the D-News should have done from the outset? Making the issue about you? Challenging your motives and ethics?

    You WANT the D-news to do that?

    Points to you for catching my sloppy spelling (sorry-fixed it) but, jeeze, Josh, if you are trying to write sarcasm you need to practice more.

    Did you mean “should not have done?”

    You are right. They should not make it about you.

    But, like it or not, when you come out with a story that is sourced from anonymous sources, you put YOUR butt on the line. It is YOUR word, not your sources’. You agree to protect them, you are trusting them to be telling you the truth, and I am sure they are, as much as they know, but it is you, not they, who have to pay the piper when things go south.

    Judith Miller got led down the sunny path by her sources, and got way too cozy with them, but she also sat in jail for a while.

    I’m not challenging your ethics or motives. I have no information on which to base such a challenge. I would be foolish and unfair to challenge them, but I’d also be foolish to accept them. When a reporter bases a story on anonymous sources, that reporter becomes a rather lonely person, as you are discovering. In a way, you become the source.

    As I said, I don’t know you. We’ve never met. Relying on any source requires a lot of trust both ways, and as a responsible reporter I feel it would be foolish to rely on your anonymous ones, not because I think you or they are lying or even fudging, but simply because it is bad practice to trust people you don’t know.

    A lot of people forget that Woodward and Bernstein had to have everything Deep Throat told them verified by an independent sources. Their bosses wanted security, and I don’t blame them.

    And, anyway, the people I DO know at the D-News are, as I said, mostly former S-E employees who (a) don’t know anything but rumors and (b) are scared witless. My blog post wasn’t meant to report more on their story, but more to answer the question your own blog asked and give people a larger perspective into the thinking of other news reporters handling a case like this. Or, at least, one reporter: Me.

    Newspapers are very public institutions but are, ultimately, also private corporations. Private corporations have no duty to tell the public anything before they want to, and they have the right to lay down rules under which their employees work.

    Nothing in Journalism is cut and dried. Stories involving other newspapers raise a lot of difficult issues, especially when it is friends and cohorts involved.

    I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I decline to make their lives worse by pumping them for information they don’t know and can’t give me in any event.

  7. rick says:

    uh, you’ve been where dnews staffers are? really? two rounds of layoffs in as many years? seems you went through ownership changes. did anyone lose their jobs during ownership changes by way of layoffs? or did you just get someone different signing your two-weeks pay? if you didn’t lose your job, which clearly you did not, or your friends or colleagues lose them as a DIRECT result of the ownership changes, then, sir, you haven’t really walked in their shoes.

    btw, josh isn’t making things up. i’ve known the man for years. is he a cynic? yes. a smart-a–? yes. got an agenda? perhaps. but it seems he is at least asking within his right as a journalist about why they are doing, or not saying, over at the dnews, and to insinuate some judith miller scam here is disingenuous and shallow. and just because he works for a “tabloid” (by sole virtue of the size of newsprint–shenefelt, lame) doesn’t make him “tabloid.” the city weekly routinely scoops every medium in salt lake and the region.

  8. ctrentelman says:

    rick,

    thanks for the thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>