By: M.L. Stein
JIM MAIELLA JR., who describes himself as a former “full-time stringer” for the Los Angeles Times, recalls that he was the first reporter to show up at his bureau when the massive Northridge earthquake struck in 1994.
So, he says, he felt as proud as any staffer when the Times won the Pulitzer in 1995 for its spot coverage of the quake. He asserts he contributed to several stories and even received a byline for a piece on the safety of unreinforced freeway bridges.
The Times commemorated its prize with a coffee-table book and a Lucite mock-up of a “quake” front page.
Maiella is listed in the book, along with other contributing stringers, but he
didn’t get one of the plaques, and he is unhappy about it.
So much so that he recently wrote to Times editor Shelby Coffey III asking for one. Coffey passed the letter over to Davilynn Furlow, an assistant to senior editor Carol Stogsdill. Not possible, replied Furlow, who had coordinated the purchase and distribution of the plaques.
She wrote Maiella: “A decision was made as we determined how many were to be ordered that the plaques would be given to staffers only. This was a decision based primarily on the cost involved.”
Furlow offered Maiella another copy of the remembrance book.
“Keep the book,” Maiella snapped back.
The ex-reporter, who now works in Washington, D.C., as a press secretary to a congressman, said in an interview that he felt keenly about the refusal because he devoted as much time to the Times’ Ventura County bureau as any staff member.
“I worked at least five days a week and at least eight hours a day,” he stated. “I had a desk, a dedicated phone line, and all the other resources and responsibilities of Times staffers.”
In a bitter letter to Furlow, Maiella said: “If my 18 months at the Times taught me anything, it is that the distinction between ‘stringer’ and ‘staff writer’ ? nearly imperceptible on a daily basis ? becomes crystal clear on the rare occasions when something is actually demanded of the paper.
“The fact that I was a ‘stringer’ didn’t influence my willingness to drive to the Simi Valley bureau a few short hours after one of the most traumatic experiences in my life to help the Times get the story out.
“The fact that I was a ‘stringer’ didn’t influence the editor’s enthusiasm for taking the information I was able to gather that day and subsequent days of the week. The fact that I was a ‘stringer’ didn’t influence the Times’ decision to fold my material into coverage that later won journalism’s most prestigious honor.”
Maiella charged that the Times had “stiffed” him out of a plaque.
Furlow told E&P she empathized with Maiella’s disappointment and that his contribution to the quake coverage was valued by the Times.
“We have only a very few plaques left ? not enough for every stringer on the story,” she said. “It would be unfair if we could not give one to all of them. The intention of the plaques was to make people feel good. It’s disappointing when you make people feel bad.”
Coffey was out of town and unavailable for comment.
In a second letter to Maiella, Furlow asserted that “not even all staffers received a plaque,” and noted that although he did not want a second copy of the book, she was “sending one anyway to reinforce the Times’ appreciation of your contributions while a stringer.”
L.A. Times stringer feels snubbed after being denied a commemorative plaque