Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Alleged R-J Conflict Of Interest

Got this interesting note from a brave soul called "Anonymous" earlier tonight and I thought it might be worthwhile to dispose of it here as opposed to as a response in the comments section of that post. I'm sure this person is not the only one to wonder what my motivations are regarding the Review-Journal. So here's what was written:

I know you won't put this comment on your blog because you don't want others knowing that you have a chip on your shoulder when it comes to the Review Journal. You really hate the RJ for not hiring you back, don't you? Why don't you disclose this fact when you write about them? That you tried to return to the RJ after you left only they wouldn't hire you. You want to go accusing other journalists of being unethical and yet you don't follow a basic tenet of journalistic ethics, which is to disclose such conflicts. Put the information out so others can decide whether they want to stand behind your criticisms or take them with a grain of salt. You might actually earn some respect then.

There ya are, Anon. Not only will I put it on the blog but I'll make sure as many people as possible see it. Fancy that.

So, let's have at it, shall we?

I worked for the Review-Journal from 1996 to 1999, during which time I covered the education and county government beats. And when I returned to Vegas in late 2002 after stints at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and then in Beijing, China, I never, ever even considered the idea of returning to the Review-Journal. Anyone who suggests otherwise is an out-and-out liar. Not even Sherman Frederick, who has attacked me and suggested nefarious motives on his blog a while back, ever claimed my issues stem from some desire to get back into the womb. (I'll get back to why Simple Sherman thinks I am this way in a moment.)

It just never crossed my mind because I was making far too much money from far too prestigious a set of publications when I returned to Vegas in 2002.

You see, I freelanced for nearly two years in Asia for USA Today, The New York Times and some others. I only returned to Vegas in 2002 because I was hoping to make a very troubled first marriage work and my partner of nearly 10 years was a medical student here. He was only going to remain for another 18 months and then we expected to move on together to Chicago, his hometown. Getting a full-time job wouldn't have made any sense, but more importantly I wanted to keep freelancing and had the contacts to make it work immediately.

My marriage failed anyway and I ended up staying here. But by the time I realized Vegas wasn't a temporary stop for me, I was making more money and enjoyed more freedom than I thought even existed in journalism. Not to mention, after covering something like China for the largest American daily newspaper, you just can't go back to covering a local city council. Or, at least, I couldn't.

The freedom was pretty important, too. When I took off for China, I thought I was done with journalism after jobs in Rockford, Vegas and Florida. But in China I realized it wasn't journalism I disliked, it was beat reporting. When you cover the school district for a local paper and you notice an interesting trend in, say, the gaming business, they make you hand off your idea to the gaming reporter. I always wanted to do it myself and I have prided myself on being extraordinarily versatile. That's what gets me going.

More proof: In the fall of 2003, I turned down a job at the Washington Post in its Montgomery County bureau. It shocked me to do it; a staff post at one of the top dailies had always been my pre-China, pre-Vegas, post-Northwestern dream. But when the chance presented itself, I couldn't see myself as happy doing it. I was helping to set the national media agenda for Vegas; covering a suburb even for the Post seemed so mundane. Also, I'd have had to take a pay cut.

I never have or would consider reapplying to the Review-Journal, but I retain many close friends there and believe that the paper's journalists are, on the whole, excellent. In fact, my broadsides at the Review-Journal's management are largely because it angers me that the journalists they hire are never given the proper tools to reach their potentials and give this community the media it needs and deserves.

My antipathy for the R-J stems directly from the fact that their web operation is a joke that could imperil the entire enterprise in the near future and their publisher consistently makes decisions and says illogical or untrue statements that harm his credibility as well as that of his staff. Any publisher who pretends he's rabidly against big government but personally calls the governor to beg to keep his own gravy train rolling, for instance, is a hypocrite who jeopardizes his own reporters' ability to do their jobs properly.

It's hypocrisy and bad journalism that rankle me, and if you read this blog long enough you'd see I praise loads and loads of R-J stories when they deserve it. You'll also see that when I screw up, I'm pretty loud about that, too. Also, I don't think anyone can claim the Sun gets an easy ride, either, especially lately.

Now, Sherm Frederick believes I am a disgruntled former employee. He gets this because at one point on this blog, I noted that in the late 1990s, when Jon Ralston was still at the paper and starting up his daily e-mail blasts, R-J reporters were forced to contribute without any compensation. This is intuitive now -- in fact, I advocate that journalists participate in all sorts of media and I do so myself without additional pay as a regular matter of course -- but back then this seemed like an unfair burden. So, in silent protest, I would forward the email blasts to some of my sources and friends to save them the money of subscribing. I'm not proud of this, it was juvenile, shortsighted and unprofessional, but the only reason anyone even knows is because I apologized to Jon on this blog! That I remain embittered over something so ridiculous 12 years later is absurd, but a lot of what Simple Sherman writes is absurd, so whatcha gonna do?

Yet the question now becomes, where does an anonymous poster who flings baseless accusations without any evidence or even a shred of logic on his/her side get off suggesting who deserves respect and who doesn't? Agree or don't agree with me, but at least I sign my name on every last view I air, every last accusation I assert. That, it seems to me, is where respect and credibility arise. Being right and arguing a good case, too, helps.

So, no, Anonymous, you won't get another shot on this blog unless you identify yourself, even in private and off-record via email. But here's what I'll do. I'm going to put a little link up in the left rail of this blog to this very post. And so from here forward, it will be easy for people to know what my history is with the Review-Journal and decide what my conflicts, if anyone can call it that, may be. MmmK?


Randi in Tulsa said...

Steve - While I'm sorry you deal with such jerks, I'm glad you took the opportunity to provide this "origin story" as you put it to David Osborne on the show this week. It's interesting to know how you got to be where you are and it does help me understand where you're coming from. So kudos for staying true to your views and thanks for the history.

Unknown said...

If there's a more prolific journalist in Vegas not named Steve Friess, please stand up. The R-J should just be happy they can say you were on their roster at one point in time. Norm Clarke breaks news on occasion, but the celebrity watch isn't really all that important. Screw the "anonymous" haters.

Unknown said...

Care to share some of that money Steve? At least some journalists make good money. I make very little money and a future raise looks bleak. At least I still have a job.
You give me hope that maybe one day I can also freelance for big names and make good money.

Crossing my fingers.


GT: There was a very scary period last year when a lot of the Old Media ran out of freelance money all at once and I got very antsy and worried. And in those months, I thought how great it would be to have the security of a JOB. And then when I started to work it out, finding new clients and such, I realized that folks with jobs are sitting ducks, powerless over their own situation. I look at my own partner, who has no control over how much he makes. He can work twice as hard and it won't make a difference to his paycheck. At least if I work twice as hard, I know what the rewards will be. You may consider leaping out on your own before you get pushed.