Eric Slater Does Blame Poor Editing For Some Of The Events That Led To His Firing At L.A. Times
Slater, who has not yet responded to an e-mail from me yesterday, did give an interview this week to the Chico Enterprise Record, and he tells a story about editing changes that led to some but not all of the faults and mistakes in his story about a fraternity hazing death at California State University, Chico.
According to his statement to the local newspaper, Slater said he was supposed to write a story about 1,300 words long, but that he turned in a much longer version. And he alleges several of the problems in the article are the result of the editing, a process that cut the story in half.
"It had grown from a story about Chico State University to a story about hazing in the United States, the world, and the history of the rituals going back before the ancient Greeks," Slater told the newspaper.
Slater said the unedited version of the story had quotes from a Chico State official, and also had the correct population of the city of Chico, both of which were omitted in the story as published.
Also Slater acknowledged that he had made mistakes in the story, but he said, "I've admitted every single one of them."
Slater said he told Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet and other top Times editors about the unedited version of his story and disputed implications that he never went to Chico and was told the editors would look into what he had said.
"They obviously have not done that and they won't unless forced," Slater is quoted as telling the Chico paper.
I might say here, this is par for the course at the L.A. Times and has been for some time under the Tribune ownership. Particularly, the metro desk has deteriorated, especially since the departure of Bill Boyarsky as city editor..
It is frequently the case that a story handed in, I had several instances of this myself, is expanded with questions and then, since it exceeds the length wanted, it is cut back, often in such a way as to omit key facts.
The reporter is usually consulted during this process, but it proves impossible to restore the story to a reasonable order, and the story, as it appears, varies in significant respects from the story as handed in. This is where errors sometimes creep in. Certainly the tenor of the story has changed. This was the blatant case in a front page story on the earthquake danger in California I did on the 10th anniversary of the Northridge quake. The editor responsible for what I thought were some very unfortunate changes in that story was David Lauter.
The Times sent editor Jim Newton to Chico to investigate what happened with Slater's story. My own experience with Newton is that he is ambitious and may not be, in such an instance, the best person to investigate independently and let the chips fall where they may.
It is also not surprising to me that Baquet was involved in the events leading to Slater's termination. Baquet was intimately involved in the events leading to my retirement a year early last year. Editor John Carroll was naturally informed, but held himself back at some distance.
I was really at 66 ready to leave and the Times gave me a very generous retirement, much more than I was expecting. Slater is younger, and may fight this one legally. Because he was fired, he may not get the extensive benefits I received for agreeing to leave "voluntarily."
One other small point. Slater had worked during a significant part of his 11 years with the L.A. Times in Chicago. I kind of wonder whether his experiences there, in the Tribune Company's home city, may have something to do with his ultimate termination.