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Thomson Reuters denies Pulitzer pursuit report, 'Baron' affirms it

04/03/2012

Our March 7 Common Sense included an item titled “Pulitzer Prize Pursuit,” which reported about a posting on TheBaron.info, an independent Web site for “Reuters people past and present.” The Baron’s February 23 posting, based on anonymous accounts of a London meeting of top managers and European chief correspondents, reported that “Reuters is adopting a new editorial approach aimed at winning Pulitzer Prizes: long, in-depth, investigative special reports from all bureaux.”

Stuart Karle, chief operating officer for Reuters news, and Deputy Editor-in-Chief Paul Ingrassia both vigorously denied the report, which said that they, along with Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler, had led the meeting. Karle and Ingrassia called the idea “stupid,” with Ingrassia adding that it would be foolish to make Pulitzer Prizes a goal, given the slight chance of winning one.

In a telephone conversation with Guild Unit Chair Debby Zabarenko, Karle questioned the Guild’s seriousness of purpose of reporting on and linking to The Baron’s post, which he said was factually incorrect and based on a flawed premise; Ingrassia called the Common Sense item a “cheap shot.”

Both managers pointed to an all-hands email from Steve Adler on February 24, a day after The Baron issued its post, that carried the subject heading, “Our Path Ahead,” as laying out the company’s true editorial strategy. Adler’s email, which summarized his presentation to company executives and owners, did not mention prizes or address any other points in The Baron’s post. Instead, it stressed the need to build on Reuters’ reputation for “fast, accurate and fair” news with commentary, “enterprise journalism, data mining, innovative video programming, stronger financial graphics, and other ventures that provide differentiated value.”

When asked how the Pulitzer reference might have gotten into The Baron’s post, Karle said managers had gone through the list of journalism prizes to weed out those with a “corporate mission.” “You do this stuff (quality journalism) because it’s a good in itself,” he said. “It’s explicitly not a goal to win prizes.”

Barry May, a former Reuters correspondent and editor who runs TheBaron.info, said he stands by the story. When asked by Zabarenko about management’s denial, May responded with the following email on March 16:

“This is a curious situation. I hear (from you and only you) that Thomson Reuters management takes issue with the report yet no-one at the company has been in touch with me to challenge any aspect of it. Therefore the question of The Baron standing by its account of the meeting does not arise since The Baron obviously stands by all its reports filed from inception of the site four years ago. During that time none of its reports has been challenged. I would add that when the report in question was first sent to me I found it so extraordinary that I asked my source (a Thomson Reuters person of distinguished service and unquestioned integrity) to check it with others before publication. This took several days (an agonisingly long time for any journalist as I'm sure you'd agree, but necessary in the circumstances), resulting in eventual confirmation of the report's accuracy. My source confirmed that it was safe to publish. Three weeks have elapsed since the report's publication and yet no-one has been in touch to say it's wrong, either in its general thrust or in specific points. Is this not strange? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that management is embarrassed by the public revelation of an inconvenient truth: The words reported were said at an internal meeting with editorial staff.  Notes were taken by some of those staff and their import found its way to The Baron.”

Neither Karle nor Ingrassia categorically denied a more troubling aspect of The Baron’s report: the notion that the pace of staff turnover is too slow “for new and better people to be brought in quickly enough.” When asked about that, both said they have received reports of journalists “underperforming” and “not pulling their weight,” but said their main objective is to improve performance.

Separately, the Guild has heard from numerous sources since last year that the Adler administration wants to use the performance management system to “manage out” veteran journalists to make way for “stars” picked by the new team. This is a serious concern, given the parlous nature of the performance management system and the new contract language that performance management cannot be used in discipline. The Guild has already filed two grievances on issues related to this, including one that is scheduled for an arbitration hearing, and we’re continuing to monitor management’s actions closely.  

Karle and Ingrassia pointed out that the Guild did not check with them about The Baron’s report before publishing and said we should have done so. We have not been in the habit of doing this, nor did company managers ever solicit our views when they issued statements about contract negotiations or other matters involving the Guild. But we will take this episode as an opportunity to change our practice and check with the new Editorial leaders, when appropriate, about assertions that may arise in the future. The new Editorial management team’s willingness to meet with us in the Partnership Committee on issues that affect our working lives has improved communications. We’re all for doing what we can to improve them even more.

What do you think?

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