On the Record: Top Reporter at N.J. Daily Resign

By Giobbe, Dorothy | Editor & Publisher, December 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

On the Record: Top Reporter at N.J. Daily Resign


Giobbe, Dorothy, Editor & Publisher


An investigative reporter for the Record, in Bergen County, NJ., resigned from the newspaper after he was cleared in an internal inquiry that examined whether he used his newspaper affiliation to benefit a side business.

Reporter Michael Moore said his early November departure was due partly to a lack of support from Record management in the wake of the inquiry.

Additionally, he said, his reporting was stifled because of political pressure exerted by New Jersey state politicians.

The Record steadfastly maintains that politics play no part in editorial policies and that the inquiry into Moore's side business was conducted fairly. Editor Glenn Ritt said the newspaper is "terribly saddened" by the entire situation.

DIGGING IN THE DIRT

In addition to his job at the Record, Moore is the owner of Dig Dirt, a company which his brother helps to run. Dig Dirt bills itself as an "information broker" kits Web page can be accessed through http://wwwpimall.com).

Essentially, the company allows customers outside of New Jersey to buy personal information about people. The data is culled from public records and Dig Dirt arranges and sells it in categories, such as "Bad Doctors," "Bad lawyers" and "Bad Landlords."

Reporters often have access to personal data through state Department of Motorvehicle records. In New Jersey, access to DMV records is quasi-restricted, though properly credentialed journalists qualify for use. In fact, Record reporters comprise a majority of DMV search requests, according to DMV spokesman Join Grab.

When Moore's side business was publicized in articles in other newspapers, Record management launched an internal inquiry into whether the reporter had used sanctioned DMV searches to benefit Dig Dirt.

Though the inquiry found no improper behavior on Moore's part, editor Ritt said the reporter's ownership of Dig Dirt "very clearly created the appearance and potential for a conflict of interest," according to a staff memo. The added that disciplinary action was against Moore.

Moore is peeved about the way the was handled, and says the newspaper should have brought in an objective professional.

"I think it's a problem when colleagues are actually investigating you with the permission of the newspaper," Moore said " . . . it's like a bad movie, and that's the main factor why I couldn't go back to work there."

He added that the paper refused to publicly support him after he was cleared. Specifically, Ritt told the Newark Star-Ledger that the Record was conducting an inquiry into Moore's side business, but after Moore was cleared, no public statement came from the Record and no follow-up appeared in the New Jersey media.

"Ritt made comments to the news media saying that I was under investigation, and for him not to release comments to the news media after I was cleared - I just don't understand that," Moore said.

Jennifer Borg, vice president of Human Resources at the Record, contends the inquiry was properly conducted by Ritt and managing editor Vivian Waixel, with the "input and advice" of Moore's two immediate supervisors.

The newspaper didn't issue a statement to the media, Ritt said, because, "It is not our intention to release the results of our investigation to the press. We deal with [ethical issues internally."

Borg added, "There is no obligation on our part to give the public the results of that investigation."

Moore has operated Dig Dirt since last spring. While Record executives say they didn't know about the company until it was brought to their attention, Moore wonders how and why Dig Dirt suddenly became a public issue.

POL PALS

The New Jersey political environment two fall was highly charged. Democratic Congressman Robert Torricelli was neck and neck with Republican Dick Zimmer in one of the dirtiest U.S. Senate races in the country. …

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