CHICAG0 – In this “City of Big Shoulders” and soaring skyscrapers, the Society of Professional Journalists bestowed on ex-News-Press editor Jerry Roberts the high honor of its annual Ethics in Journalism Award Saturday night.
Roberts and eight other News-Press reporters and editors were honored after they quit last month rather than remain at the paper because they felt that under owner Wendy McCaw the paper had fallen far short of the SPJ’s Code of Ethics. (That list includes this columnist.)
Since then eight other newsroom staffers have resigned.
In what some feel was an attempt to throw cold water on the ethics awards and distract from them, it was learned on the eve of the SPJ convention that McCaw had filed a $500,000 claim against Roberts, alleging breach of her contract with him and “causing damage to the News-Press.”
I don’t know what, if any, damage Roberts has done to the paper, but the whole town knows that McCaw’s actions resulted in the ongoing meltdown at the paper.
Then, after the L.A. Times published a short item about the claims filed with an arbitrator, McCaw issued one of her PR statements blaming Roberts or his representatives for telling the Times about it.
The Times cited sources at the paper. Since Roberts was in Chicago at the time and reportedly surprised that the claim story had broken, some suspicious folks are speculating that The Times’ sources might have actually been management or close to it.
But Times reporter Jim Rainey, who wrote the story, told me that neither Roberts nor management were his sources. Rainey wouldn’t say whom, but when a former top editor gets hit with a half-million-dollar claim, word travels fast.
At Saturday’s award ceremony, Roberts received a standing ovation. “We pay tribute to the courage and principled sacrifice of these nine journalists, who opted to risk their livelihoods rather than remain in a position where they felt their journalistic ethics and professional credibility were being violated,” said SPJ president David Carlson.
As for McCaw’s claim that some of the journalists who left had personal agendas, one of the departed cracked, “Right, we all wanted to be unemployed.”
The other eight former News-Press journalists honored by the SPJ were managing editor George Foulsham, deputy managing editor Don Murphy, sports editor Gerry Spratt, business editor Michael Todd, city editor Jane Hulse, presentation editor Colin Powers, reporter Scott Hadley, and myself.