‘L.A. Times’ Still Not Sure What to Do About ‘Tupac’ Reporter

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By: Joe Strupp

Nearly a month after publishing its now infamous story about a rap industry shooting that relied on fake FBI records, the Los Angeles Times has still not determined the future of staffer Chuck Philips, who wrote the piece.

Editor Russ Stanton, who is in town for the Capital Conference combined media convention, told E&P that Philips ?remains active and on the payroll,? but added ?what he is going to be doing in the future is still in the process of being defined.?

Stanton?s comments, made during a chat with E&P at the annual AP luncheon on Monday, come a week after the Times formally retracted the story in which Philips tied Combs to the past shooting of Tupac Shakur in New York. After the story ran on March 17, thesmokinggun.com Web site questioned the validity of documents that were used in the story and posted on the Times’ Web site, which eventually led to the Times’ own investigation.

Stanton, who has been in the top editing post for two months after replacing former editor James O?Shea, said the incident had not affected the paper?s willingness to place background material online. ?We just need to make sure they are authentic,? he said. When asked if any new procedures were being put in place related to online material, he said, ?we are in the process of determining that now.?

Having to face such a controversy after just a month at the helm, Stanton said the incident had made for a challenging beginning, but did not blame anyone but the paper itself. ?I think we did what we were supposed to do; we made a pretty big mistake, we owed up to it on day one,? he said. ?The first eight weeks of the job have had their share of challenges, but we continue to put out a hell of a paper and a Web site. There is no job like this in our business that isn?t facing a host of challenges.?

Looking ahead, Stanton said the controversy will not be a detriment to his efforts to make the paper successful: ?I think it propels us forward, I don?t know how else to do it. I think we dealt with it as fairly as a newspaper can.?

Publisher David Hiller, who appointed Stanton to replace O?Shea, also offered no excuses, saying: ?Things like that happen. What is important to do is to step up and acknowledge that we made a mistake. We draw a lot of attention. It is like the old saying that a million planes land safely every day, if one has a problem, it gets attention.?

Hiller than commented on the ongoing changes for Tribune Company, including new top chief Sam Zells comments about budget cuts and consolidation, and rumors that the Times may be sold.

?What Sam has said is that he?d like to keep it together with the rest of the company, I believe that and it will be a good thing,? Hiller said. ?We are focused on doing a better job everyday. Because the paper is so big and prominent it naturally draws more than its share of public attention.?

Asked about other happenings in Tribune, such as the likely sale of Newsday or the Chicago Cubs, Hiller said, ?I don?t think it has been confirmed. I think those would be good moves and would help things. But I think we are staying part of Tribune and that is a good thing.?

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