Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why the Chron dropped a story about a billionaire UC regent's possible conflict of interest

The Bay Guardian this week printed journalist Peter Byrne’s account of why the Chronicle’s editors didn’t print his story about possible conflicts of interest in UC investment deals.

The story suggested that UC regent billionaire Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, had a conflict of interest because he was overseeing university investment deals in which he had a personal financial stake.

Byrne’s original story, "The Investors Club: How University of California Regents Spin Public Money into Private Profit,” was published in September 2010 by the journalism website Spot.us. Several publications including the Los Angeles Times ran stories about Byrne’s report. Then, in October 2010, the Chron’s Nanette Asimov offered Byrne $350 for a 800-word version of his story.

After the Chronicle took nearly a year to edit and lawyer his story, Byrne felt frustrated and complained to the Bay Citizen that his story wasn’t being printed. He gave the Bay Citizen e-mails between himself and Chronicle staffers.

When the Bay Citizen called Chron editors to ask what happened to Byrne’s story, the Chron apparently decided to drop Byrne’s piece and even suggested they were being blackmailed.

The Chron’s Nanette Asimov wrote in an e-mail to UC instructor Kathryn Klar, who had inquired about the status of Byrne’s story:
    I worked for nearly a year to get Peter Byrne's — frankly awful — story in good enough shape to run in the Chronicle. It was poorly written and confusing. He will tell you how hard I worked to get that thing ready for publication. ... By the end of July, the story was in great shape and the lawyers were taking a final look. 
    And then Peter did the unthinkable. He forwarded a year's worth of my private correspondence to another journalistic organization — not a newspaper — who then contacted me and others at the paper threatening to write a story about how the Chronicle had suppressed Peter's story. ...
    They behaved like blackmailers. Of course they had no story to write, and they didn't. Needless to say, Peter's story will not run in the Chronicle now. But it was his actions, not ours, that led to its death. We, my editors included, liked the story and were pleased that it was finally in great shape. Even the lawyers agreed. 
    It’s such a shame.
Chron managing editor Steve Proctor told the Guardian that they weren’t intimidated by any threats made to the paper. “After reviewing Mr. Byrne's previously published articles and his interactions with the Chronicle, we decided that we were not comfortable publishing his work.” Proctor didn’t explain why the Chron bought Byrne’s story in the first place if that was the paper’s concern.

The Bay Citizen, which provides copy to The New York Times’ regional edition, also decided not to pursue a story about the Chron refusing to run Byrne’s piece. “After much reporting we ultimately decided that Peter's story was a lot less interesting than he thought it was, and wouldn't make for a very worthwhile column in the NY Times,” reporter Elizabeth Lesly Stevens told the Guardian.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A year to edit a story? The story by Nanette Asimov and the Chron doesn't past the smell test. They were pressured and caved. Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

It's strange that Asimov found the piece "frankly awful" and "confusing," yet paid for it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers like the Chronicle obtain people's emails all the time and print them, when the subject involves our tax dollars or a business transaction. They never describe their use of those emails as "blackmail". So how come it's only "blackmail" when somebody obtains a newspaper's emails and threatens to print them? Whenever you hit the "send" button on an email, you should assume the email can and will become public. Asimov is a fool to think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

The LA Times had a staff writer investigate Byrne's allegations and write a story about it. The Chron paid Byrne a fee and then sat on his story, eventually never printing a word about it. Shows you how the state's two largest newspapers operate.