[Sidebar] August 2 - 9, 2001


'ProJo' editors cave on reporter after subject complains

by Ian Donnis

Although editors at the Providence Journal apparently found no fault with her work on a domestic violence case, veteran reporter Karen Lee Ziner has been taken off the story after a complaint from the victim -- a development that insiders regard as a disturbing newsroom precedent. "People are very upset," says reporter Brian C. Jones. "It's a classic thing where the newspaper needs to back its reporters. If everyone who wrote a story after which the news subjects complained about it was taken off future stories, you just couldn't put out the newspaper."

The dispute concerns a May 9 story in which Ziner detailed an alleged assault with a hammer on Caitana "Tanya" Threats of East Providence by her husband, Daril C. Threats. Using a police affidavit as the source, Ziner's story indicated that officers found the injured Mrs. Threats while she was lying nude on the floor of the couple's apartment. But after recovering, Caitana Threats complained to Journal editors, saying she was not nude at the time, and this information was reported in a July 26 correction.

Ziner, who was on an 11-day vacation in Cuba when Threats complained about the coverage, says she returned to learn she'd been taken off the story, even though executive editor Joel Rawson and Tom Heslin, managing editor/metro, had no problem with her reporting. Through an assistant, Rawson declined to comment.

About 80 staffers have signed a letter of concern to Rawson, and Ziner, who's joined Tony DePaul and a few other reporters on a byline strike, remains outraged. "I can't understand why or what their concerns are," she says. "I can't understand why they wrote a correction when there was nothing to correct. I think they're afraid of a lawsuit, but I don't know why. I've been at the Journal for 21 years, and I've never seen them do this."

Coming in the midst of a bitter contract stalemate between the Belo-owned Journal and the Providence Newspaper Guild, the situation has sparked concerns about the growing influence of the business side at the newspaper. Still, some observers remain mystified as well as troubled, noting the Journal's traditionally tough coverage of politicians and mobsters.

"It appears to be a change in how the company does business, because in the past they've steadfastly resisted outside pressure as to who would be covering news events," says Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence Newspaper Guild. "There have been other events in the past where subjects of news coverage have demanded that management change the personnel who are covering them. I'm not aware of management caving in to such pressure in the past."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.

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