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Tempest over a Richard Blum story the Chronicle rejected

Thursday, September 29, 2011

imageFresh from the journalism sausage factory: the story behind the story about UC Regent (and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband) Richard Blum that freelancer Peter Byrne wrote for the Chronicle but that the newspaper didn’t see fit to print. The Bay Guardian’s Steven T. Jones lays it out, complete with Byrne-provided emails recounting how an original piece he wrote for the journalism site Spot.Us about potential conflicts of interest involving Blum (pictured) got commissioned for an 800-word re-do by the Chron. It languished for eight months before the plug was pulled.

Add: The Guardian asks, “Why did two Bay Area newsrooms [the other being The Bay Citizen] dismiss Peter Byrne’s story about conflicts of interest in UC investment deals?” The SFBG piece suggests several possibilities, including a couple of conspiracy-free explanations.

Included is this email from Chronicle education reporter Nanette Asimov to a UC faculty member who had inquired about how the Byrne piece was coming:

    I worked for nearly a year to get Peter Byrne's — frankly awful — story in good enough shape to run in the Chronicle. It was poorly written and confusing. He will tell you how hard I worked to get that thing ready for publication. ... By the end of July, the story was in great shape and the lawyers were taking a final look.

    And then Peter did the unthinkable. He forwarded a year's worth of my private correspondence to another journalistic organization — not a newspaper — who then contacted me and others at the paper threatening to write a story about how the Chronicle had suppressed Peter's story. ...
    They behaved like blackmailers. Of course they had no story to write, and they didn't. Needless to say, Peter's story will not run in the Chronicle now. But it was his actions, not ours, that led to its death. We, my editors included, liked the story and were pleased that it was finally in great shape. Even the lawyers agreed.
    It’s such a shame.

And then there’s reporter Elizabeth Lesly Stevens’ explanation to the Bay Guardian as to why TBC passed on offering the piece to the New York Times online:

“After much reporting we ultimately decided that Peter's story was a lot less interesting than he thought it was, and wouldn't make for a very worthwhile column in the NY Times.”

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