Thursday, April 21, 2005

Eric Slater Does Blame Poor Editing For Some Of The Events That Led To His Firing At L.A. Times

As I suspected when I wrote the first blog yesterday about the termination of Eric Slater at the Los Angeles Times, there may be an issue of poor editing in the events that led to his demise.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that the final straw to your firing was the vocal abuse of a secretary. you were famous for doing that throughout the years.

4/22/2005 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doubtful about a Chicago LINK:

It had nothing to do with Chicago. It was a mix of weak reporting and Sloppy editing : are rules for un-named sources unknown and secrets kept from editors? Are articles chopped and re-chopped to fit into a shrinking newshole? Are articles edited swiftly while fresh in a reporters mind -- or does it take weeks during which contact with the subject fades as other projects arise (did reporting and editing take longer than Slater's "investigation" )? IS there any mention of the editor's name in the press or blogs? Top secret. Why has he has not come forth (maybe he is an anonymous editor??)

Slow sloppy editing, then sloppily justified yet highly public career termination.

If Chicago can let a LA Times reporter --who nearly shut down their beloved and Tribune-owned Wrigley Field-- remain after a highly public incident that cost the Tribune thousands of dollars would they wait for Slater to "maybe" make a mis-step years down the road? As far as I can see he never offended them while in Chicago - not one mention in the Chicago Tribune archives.

Chicago owners don't care until it hits the bottom line. Declining circulation can lead to regime changes. Now a newsroom ruled by fear could -one badly edited / bad day-done article could lead to summary reputation execution firing -- if they are distracted or quit in LA who in Chicago cares- staff reduction is a good thing to them (depending only on legal costs).

Media covered lawsuits could hit the bottom line- and flash a warning light bringing the laser focus of Trib Accountants onto their surrogates in the echelons of editorial power ….. you can only let your lackeys rule until they cost you.

But does the TRIBUNE care much about what LA does day to day? Nothing happened to the Times staffer following last summer's costly 3 day wave of Cub's fear…..

They don't care until is costly... even then they seem forgiving (in public at least). or they do indeed have long memories and patience ..... doubtful.

THIS WAS SLOPPY EDITING compounding weak reporting -- that even the blindest of editors should have spotted.

COME IN CHICAGO, TIME TO WAKE UP. Your lackeys are sinking the ship.

the 3 days in chicago-forgiven:

4/22/2005 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carole Leigh Hutton, Publisher and Editor of the Detroit Free Press stepped up to the plate herself to explain to readers what happened in the Mitch Albom case- a conclusion similar to the LAT, but a moderated reaction that is opposite that reached in the LA Times Slater Case.

Los Angeles Times’ executives courageously hid behind an unsigned correction then a wall of self serving press releases. Is the Times publisher proud of a principled investigation, confident of a just firing? This was an assiduous probe the readers should trust, right? Fired after one flawed article - is that really the reason, is it enough of a reason for firing?
They would have to tell us about other journalistic infractions - not so much that we readers know- but so they are further justified in taking his career. If no other problems come to light that unsigned correction/termination looks more like a curtain hiding a flawed editing and reporting system.

But if the probe was indeed complete there will there can be NO more Slater mistakes. Just the singular Chico material.

Had he somehow angered the un-named powers and editors who saw and used an opportunity that this flawed single article presented? Something smells fishier than the original Chico article that started this cascade. Do we have a public reason masking the real one?

Of course not, these are Honorable People. (Nameless, faceless, anonymous people, right?).

Lets call them Greene and Rodriguez.

4/23/2005 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaw Mistake! can’t tell a paid from an unpaid suspension, in the LAT’s corrections on April 25 for his news story of April 24th.

Slater made a series of mistakes and substandard reporting, said Shaw parroting the corporate line. But Where are Shaw’s original live quotes from Detroit- he burps back just what’s been published already by Detroit papers and on book flaps. Does that make his corrected article substandard reporting-nothing original? Its called a telephone call or its called plain lazy. Not one of the 4 super editors asked for original reporting?

If Shaw makes 1 mistake per 303 words; so then if David had to fill Slater’s 2000 word space there would there could be 7 mistakes in Shaw’s comparabley lengthed story? A linear progression assured by FOUR levels of flawless consistent editing. Is Jim Newton –finder of the LAT truth -- being called to Detroit?


Bible. John 8:7. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Watch out David S. what goes around comes around…..

4/25/2005 11:56 AM  
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