On Monday, Voice of San Diego investigative journalist Will Carless reported at length on the complicated topic of a local school district in big financial trouble for having relied on Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs). At the time, Joel Thurtell, a retired Detroit Free Press reporter who had broken the story a few months earlier on his blog and helped source the VoSD report, seemed fine with the well-researched VoSD feature.
What a difference an outlet makes. 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. In a long, angry August 8 open letter to the network, Thurtell outlines the full chronology of his reporting efforts, his contact with Carless and the earlier acknowledgment of his Poway reporting by another California journalist. He is demanding a CNBC correction.
In the middle of all this, San Diego CityBeat has expressed some cryptic support for Thurtell in its editorial pages.* The matter has essentially turned into a big enough issue to necessitate an on-the-record response from VoSD editor Andrew Donohue – posted this evening. Here are just a few relevant highlights:
In his [open] letter, Thurtell criticizes Carless for not correcting the CNBC anchor who credited him with breaking the story. Fair enough. Thurtell was the first journalist we know of to write about Poway’s bonds. I’ve also reached out to Thurtell talk to him both over email and by calling him to hash this out but he hasn’t responded…
Carless contacted Thurtell, who then became one of many sources that were useful in putting the story together. After speaking with Thurtell, Carless spent a month gathering data, interviewing sources and writing the story….
That’s a message that Carless and I want to make sure is clear: Thurtell deserves credit for recognizing this as an important issue and for being the first person to write about it. Kudos to him
As we were finalizing this item, Thurtell posted a second angry open letter to Donohue and Carless. Given his apparent refusal to respond to the VoSD editor’s direct line of communication, that seems a little excessive. We get it, Mr. Thurtell; you’re unhappy with the CNBC coverage. But in our opinion, in light of what Donohue has now posted, there is no “journalistic impropriety.” Only, perhaps, a little too much impatience.
Update – 08/09/12: Thurtell has responded to the VoSD editor’s note and thanked Donohue for his acknowledgments.
*Clarification – 08/09/12: Kelly Davis, associate editor at CityBeat, let us know that this kind of support (expressed at the bottom of the editorial page) is a regular feature. “We weren’t “cryptic” at all,” she explained. “Joel Thurtell broke the story and no one was acknowledging that. So we did. Each week, we dedicate the paper to someone or something. Most of the time it’s silly, some of the time it’s serious. We take seriously acknowledging other people’s hard work, even if that person broke a story we were working on.”