Prodded by reporters’ union and critics, Philly papers change their tune

    Finally, three days after they got the notice, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News today acknowledged that a group of prominent investors has expressed an interest in buying the company that owns the papers.

     

    If you missed reports about how the owners of the papers and Philly.com suppressed the news that developer Bart Blatstein had put together a partnership to bid, read my posts from the last two days here and here.

    Today’s stories in the papers are the kind of solidly reported pieces that should have appeared routinely several days ago, before I and others noted the peculiar behavior of a company theoretically committed to independent and credible journalism.

    Today’s pieces also referred to the controversy, to the extent that they said some nice things about Daily News reporter David Gambacorta, whose blog post on the Blatstein group was scrubbed and replaced with a company statement Tuesday.

    The stories quote a statement by company spokesman Mark Block, who removed Gambacorta’s post Tuesday.

    The statement said, in part, “It was never my intent to question the accuracy of David’s reporting – David is nationally known for his exceptional investigative stories, and this blog posting would be no exception to his stellar record of diligence and professionalism in getting the story right.”

    Nice to read. And I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters at the papers, filed a grievance over the handling of the story.

    Or maybe it did. Here’s a notice the Guild sent to its members:

    Dear Guild member,

    On Tuesday, the Newspaper Guild filed a grievance over two recent

    contract violations involving stories partially or entirely removed from

    Philly.com without the advance knowledge of the writers. Article 35,

    Section A of our contract states that in the event of any retraction:

    “The employee involved will be consulted prior to the retraction of any

    material involved.”

    On Feb. 4, a paragraph related to Philadelphia Media Network’s earnings

    was mysteriously removed from the online version of Inquirer reporter

    Andrew Maykuth’s story about Ed Rendell’s group of investors seeking to

    purchase the company. The paragraph, about the company’s finances,

    appeared in the print edition of the Feb. 4 Inquirer, but was edited out

    of the online version. Maykuth was not told in advance, nor has anyone

    mentioned to him since, that the paragraph was removed after

    publication.

    On Feb. 7, Philadelphia Media Network Vice President for External

    Affairs Mark Block told the journalism web site Poynter.org that he

    ordered a blog post from Philly.com, by Daily News reporter David

    Gambacorta, to be removed from the site. Gambacorta was never consulted

    that his post was to be removed from the site and then replaced by an

    anonymously posted statement from the company. Block went on to suggest

    to Poynter that there were inaccuracies in Gambacorta’s story, which

    there were not, and commented that what appeared in Gambacorta’s post

    was “dishonest.”

    A grievance meeting was held Tuesday afternoon in which the company said

    it wasn’t prepared to fully discuss the Maykuth situation, but stated

    that the paragraph was not removed due to inaccuracy but over concerns

    of the reporting of the earnings of the privately-held company and

    whether that may violate its fiduciary obligations. The Guild and PMN

    agreed to reconvene to discuss the matter.

    In the case of the Gambacorta blog post, whose removal from the website

    led other media outlets to cast doubt on the integrity of the company,

    which in turn undermined the work of Gambacorta and all of our

    journalists, Block claimed he did not malign Gambacorta’s reporting,

    rather took issue with a press release issued by developer Bart

    Blatstein about his interest in purchasing the company.

    During the meeting Guild leaders and Gambacorta stressed that had the

    company merely provided comment for Gambacorta’s story, as it regularly

    provides comment for our own and other media outlets, rather than

    nefariously remove his blog post and replace it with its own statement,

    it would not have faced ridicule in national and local media outlets

    some of which questioned whether current management is trying to control

    the sale process. This was a public embarrassment that could have easily

    been avoided.

    We thank the company for meeting promptly to discuss the grievance and

    Block for agreeing to the Guild’s request that he publicly apologize for

    casting doubt on Gambacorta’s accurate reporting. His quotes to this

    effect from Block appear in today’s Inquirer and Daily News stories

    about Blatstein’s interest in the company.

    Block’s publicly clarified remarks and defense of Gambacorta’s

    professional integrity resolves that portion of the grievance. We look

    forward to meeting on the Maykuth matter and discussing other instances

    we are looking into about other material being removed from blog posts

    without advance consultation of the writer. If you are aware of an

    example of this nature, please get in touch.

    In solidarity,

    Dan Gross, President

    Bill Ross, Executive Director

    Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia/Communications Workers of

    America Local 38010

    There’s more on the story from Steve Myers of the prestigious Poynter Institute, and JimRomenesko.

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