Why Long Island Paper’s Own Newsroom Aired Its Dirty Laundry

By: Jennifer Saba

The circulation scandal that has beset Newsday is one of the dirtiest newspaper stories to emerge lately, and even though the paper is at the center of the controversy, its own newsroom has gone through great lengths to aggressively pursue itself. Yesterday it culminated in a four-page spread full of embarrassing revelations.

Later that day its publisher was forced to retire.

Editor Howard Schneider won’t have it any other way. “We’re an important and powerful institution and we need to cover ourselves like we would any important and powerful institution,” he told E&P. Schneider said that he did not have to approach parent Tribune Co. or Newsday business executives to gain permission to run any stories or even to pursue it. “In many ways, trying to cover yourself is a litmus test if newsrooms can rise to the occasion and do its job,” Schneider said.

Since the ruckus broke in June, he and his team of reporters have doggedly uncovered details that have rolled out every week. Yesterday’s roughly 3,600-word article written by four staffers amounted to an in-depth investigation about how distributors and carriers were strong-armed into going along with the operation since as far back as the 1990s.

Of course, the newsroom finds itself in a precarious and rather odd position when covering itself. “People assume that we have the whole story and we don’t,” Schneider said. The Tribune Co. and Newsday business executives treat the paper like any other media outlet, Schneider confirmed. In yesterday’s extensive feature, for example, Publisher Raymond Jansen was quoted saying that nothing convinced him that others, beside Robert Brennan, vice president of circulation, should be punished for the scam. After the story was published, Jansen announced that he would retire Aug. 15.

Tribune and Newsday executives have been tight-lipped about the fracas and that extends to their own papers. Yesterday’s article only quoted Jansen and noted that “Newsday and Tribune have turned down repeated requests for interviews with executives and managers.”

Schneider says it’s been a while since the Newsday newsroom has found itself in this position. Back in the 1980s, the paper covered itself as part of heated competition among rivals on Long Island. It was rather tame compared to the current flap since it didn’t involve a business scandal.

Indeed, Newsday’s sister publication, the Spanish-language Hoy, which is also wracked with circulation charges and also lost a publisher yesterday, barely makes mention of the scandal. The paper finally took its circ off the front page and issued an unbylined story that essentially says that it will be audited twice a year.

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