Voice of San Diego defends itself over not crediting another journalist

Joel on the Road | VoiceofSanDiego.org | Fishbowl LA
VoiceofSanDiego.org published a stunning story Monday about a local school district that was on the hook for $877 million in interest after borrowing $105 million. The story got national attention and garnered reporter Will Carless a spot on CNBC, which credited him with breaking the story.

That irritated Michigan journalist Joel Thurtell, who had written about the bond deal already and helped Carless with his story. Thurtell wrote in a letter to CNBC that, contrary to what was said on the air, he was the one who broke this story.

Note that he corrected your reporter for mispronouncing his name, but allowed your staffer’s statement that he broke the Poway story to pass.

Will Carless and the Voice of San Diego did NOT find, nor did they break, the Poway story.

Thurtell then followed it up with another post accusing Voice of San Diego of “journalistic impropriety.”

Fishbowl LA’s Richard Horgan notes that Thurtell seemed to be just fine with the story until it went national. “Once Carless jumped to the national airwaves of CNBC on Tuesday and let a network host frame the Poway story as his scoop, Thurtell hit the roof.”

VoiceofSanDiego.org Editor Andrew Donohue responded by acknowledging Thurtell’s role in the reporting, which took Carless a month. He said the news outlet hadn’t claimed to have broken the story. While Thurtell was indeed an important source, so were other people who weren’t cited in the story.

We weren’t trying to hide his work or take credit for it. Our story didn’t purport to be exclusive or proprietary or all-encompassing. Public officials and taxpayer watchdogs had also been beating this drum. We put together an over-arching story of the expensive bonds, what voters were told about them, what elected officials said in their defense and the circumstances under which they were created.

Left unaddressed in Donohue’s post was whether Carless should’ve linked to Thurtell’s work. Why not? It would have been simple to do so (and it’s simple to do so now), even if the story didn’t name Thurtell. I see this as a matter of providing more information and context for readers, not giving credit.

When I asked Donohue about it, he agreed, saying the site links “religiously,” including on its daily Morning Report. “So linking is part of our DNA. There are a million things you’re thinking through on a big story, bullet proofing, editing, etc. This just wasn’t one that came up. Do I wish we would’ve linked? Yes. Do I think we committed a journalistic sin? No.”

Finally, a bit of irony: According to Donohue, Carless “did give Bloomberg some grief for apparently parachuting in on the story that day and not crediting information he thought they clearly pulled from our story and cited to themselves.” Bloomberg has updated its story with credit to VoiceofSanDiego.org and Thurtell.

Earlier: Departure of Disney exec sparks Twitter spat over crediting scoops

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