Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reporter Fired over Gulf-Related Story. California Journalist Says Complaint by Local Businessmen Led to His Dismissal; Publisher Denies It

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reporter Fired over Gulf-Related Story. California Journalist Says Complaint by Local Businessmen Led to His Dismissal; Publisher Denies It

Article excerpt

Reporter fired over Gulf-related story

A reporter for the Paso Robles (Calif.) Daily Press alleges he was fired after local businessmen complained to the publisher about his story of their sales of patriotic materials relating to the Persian Gulf war.

Ben Reddick, the newspaper's editor, publisher and owner, admitted discharging reporter Paul Payne but denied that the action was tied to pressure over the story, which was never printed in the Daily Press.

(The firing was the second of a journalist within the past few months involving the Persian Gulf. On Feb. 4, Joseph Reedy, editor of The Patriot, a Kutztown, Pa., weekly, was fired after he had written and published an editorial which denounced the Persian Gulf war and President Bush [E&P, Mar. 9, P. 10.]

(The publisher/owner of that newspaper denied the firing was a result of the editorial, but subsequently ran a pro-war editorial denouncing the earlier one by Reedy.)

Following the California firing, New Times, an alternative weekly in nearby San Luis Obispo, printed Payne's article under the headline: "Not Cleared by North County Censors - The Article the Paso Robles Daily Press Refused to Publish."

E&P interviews with Payne, Reddick, Daily Press city editor Bill Bryan and one of the complaining merchants revealed conflicting versions of the reason for Payne's dismissal.

Reddick said, "I fired him because he refused to do the job he was supposed to do."

According to the publisher, Payne had been assigned to cover a community rally in support of U.S. troops in the Middle East and turned in the Gulf war paraphernalia story instead.

Payne, 27, who had worked for the Daily Press 18 months - his first newspaper job - admitted the sales story was his own idea but insisted that it had been approved by Bryan.

"I was going to cover the rally, too, but it was a week away so I went ahead on his one," he explained. Payne added that on the paper's small staff it was common practice for reporters to develop their own stories.

Part of the contested article said: "A handful of companies throughout the city have jumped on the Gulf war paraphernalia bandwagon lately, selling everything from T-shirts to miniature versions of Old Glory. Maps of the war-torn region can be snapped up almost anywhere these days and the call for bulk yellow ribbon is growing louder."

Payne noted that some firms were contributing a portion of their profits to troop support groups and that a radio station was giving away maps.

"The war . . . has made some businesses boom again and nobody is questioning it," he wrote further.

Among the merchants singled out was John Taylor, the owner of a computer store, who also is a captain in the Paso Robles Fire Department.

Payne reported that Taylor was selling red, white and blue bumper stickers, which also displayed his shop's logo. Taylor was quoted as saying he "wouldn't call [the stickers] a moneymaker."

Following the interview, Payne related, Taylor telephoned Bryan with an apparent complaint about the reporter's behavior. …

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