There Are Questions About The Eric Slater Firing At The L.A. Times
But it strikes me there may be other possibilities here, and some of the experiences I had with the assistant metro editors stir some thoughts I'm going to put down here. If they stir things up, so be it.
The editor's note in the Times is not very revealing. This is nothing like the New York Times lengthy revelations about the Jayson Blair affair, and that is probably not a coincidence, since the comprehensive piece the NYT did about Jayson Blair stirred up so much feeling it led to the publisher ousting the executive editor. In short, it was a process that exceeded all reasonable bounds, and I'm sure John Carroll and Dean Baquet did not want to stir up some such process at the L.A. Times.
I referred to the assistant metro editors. The editing process at the L.A. Times for a second tier story such as the Chico story is nothing like the comprehensive effort put in on the major investigative pieces that have recently led to Pulitzers. In fact, editing on both the national and foreign desks is vastly superior to the routine metro desk editing.
I say this, because of experiences I had in my final years at the L.A. Times. The metro editing on second tier stories is so slapdash, so filled with editors' feelings and changes that don't make any sense that it is a struggle often for reporters to ride the process through without bowing to gross errors being inserted into their stories. And when errors do appear, they are often not corrected, at least not in a way as to imply gross incompetence as was the first correction in the Chico case.
One of my last experiences with a front page story at the Times was a piece I did on some minor quakes that were occurring near Lakeport and Geyserville in Northern California. That story last year was a struggle throughout. I thought the metro desk had its agenda on that story, and nothing I could do to indicate that I felt it wasn't they way they saw it was availing. They had their desires for that story and the facts of the matter be damned.
Now, I don't know what happened with Eric Slater and the Chico story. I did exchange a couple of small messages with Eric on this, mainly to say at the initiation of the inquiry I wasn't going to write about it in my blog. Now that he's been fired, and may sue the paper, I don't feel bound by that earlier decision.
I do feel that Eric's "apology" was poorly done. It's as if he was trying to pass this off as a humorous or perhaps minor matter, when it's obvious now his job was at stake. So whatever he wrote in his apology was obviously a mistake.
But I'd like to know whether Jim Newton, in his investigation of what went on in Chico, bothered to check to see what went on in the editing of this story in Los Angeles, what changes were made, how Eric was relating to his editor during this process, whether the errors in the story were all his or not.
It used to be the Times was a writer's newspaper. Beginning with Noel Greenwood that changed, and it came to be with many stories that the assistant editors weren't satisfied with a story until they had changed virtually everything. This reflected the desire of Greenwood and other senior editors that the assistants "take the writers in hand." That has not made the L.A Times a better paper, I assure you, since by and large the reporters are better writers than the assistant editors, although I can think of some exceptions, such as Frank Clifford and others..
So what happened here? The results make me uneasy, as I said. But I know Eric Slater did some good work for the L.A. Times in Chicago and elsewhere, that he was well liked by many, and I hope he has been treated fairly.
If there are further developments in this matter, you can be assured I will write about them.