Star-Telegram Turmoil p.14

By: DOROTHY GIOBBE TAFFERS AT THE Fort Worth Star-Telegram are in the dark about the departure of executive editor Debbie Price, even as management of the Texas daily claims she is still employed by the newspaper.
Though details were still unfolding as of E&P's deadline last week, what's clear is that both the newspaper and Price are fundamentally at odds over her employment status and the circumstances surrounding her absence from the newsroom.
Despite the difference of opinion, however, representatives from both sides have been largely unwilling to publicly discuss details of their respective versions of the events.
Essentially, Price's lawyer claims that his client was wrongfully terminated because she refused to go along with "unethical" editorial policies at the newspaper. Fort Worth attorney Darrell Keith told the Austin American-Statesman: "It is Debbie's position that she stood up for truth and integrity at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and when she challenged unethical practices, she was terminated.
"This is based on what I believe the evidence will show if the case goes to court," Keith told E&P.
Price later was offered her job back, Keith said, but "it is her position that the offer was under circumstances that would make her going back as executive editor intolerable and untenable to her or to any other reasonable person."
But people familiar with the situation claim that Price's departure had less to do with unethical practices than with the fact that she was going to be demoted.
Management of the Star-Telegram has declined to comment on the particulars of the situation. A spokesperson said, "We usually don't comment on personnel matters, but I can tell you that Debbie Price has not been terminated and is still on our payroll."
The opposing versions of Price's employment status follow weeks of bewilderment and speculation in the newsroom, as the newspaper's management has offered no official explanation of the events to staffers.

Unethical Practices?
According to published reports in the Austin newspaper and the Dallas Morning News ? a Star-Telegram competitor ? Price's departure is linked to a supposed high-level clash over journalistic ethics at the newspaper.
The apparent clash involved the newspaper's coverage of the Biosphere, the ambitious project financed largely by the Bass family, who are prominent members of the Fort Worth community.
Star-Telegram publisher Richard Connor told the Morning News that rumors Price was fired over the Biosphere coverage are "categorically untrue."
Attorney Keith would not discuss the details of the events leading to Price's departure, or to what degree the newspaper's coverage of the Biosphere was involved.
"Connor fired her," Keith said. "He didn't tell her he was firing her over the Biosphere [coverage] . . . . It was part of the circumstances leading up to it. It was not the precise subject of the meeting between Price and Connor that involved her termination."
The wealthy Bass family is a major shareholder in the Walt Disney Co., parent company of the Star-Telegram since the recent Cap Cities/Disney merger.

The Whole Story?
A counter version of Price's departure has emerged from management sources. Price was called into the office of a high-level executive and was told that she would be demoted, they say.
She then left the newspaper and has not returned.
When asked about the reports that his client had been demoted, Keith said, "I'm not going to comment on rank rumor and speculation."
If Star-Telegram management was in fact unhappy with Price's work performance, it would likely come as a surprise to many in the newsroom.
Price was handpicked as executive editor in 1993 by publisher Connor. Prior to her appointment, she had been a columnist, and earlier, a reporter, at the newspaper.
By his own admission, Connor has enjoyed a close-working relationship with Price and has been a major supporter of her efforts in the newsroom.
Price's elevation to the number one editing slot raised eyebrows among reporters and editors, many of whom viewed her as an accomplished journalist, but lacking the degree of management experience necessary to function effectively as executive editor.
Those questions haven't gone away. Most recently, they were raised in an article in the weekly Dallas Observer, in which a number of current and former Star-Telegram staffers accused Price of inept and abrasive management techniques, and of muffling unflattering stories about prominent members of the Fort Worth community.
In the Observer article, Price denied the accusations and attributed them to disgruntled staffers who resisted her efforts to improve the newspaper.
Also, Price recently was unflatteringly portrayed in the national press after removing an openly gay editor from the children's section of the newspaper after receiving a complaint from a reader.
At the Star-Telegram, senior metropolitan editor Paul Harral has been named the Star-Telegram's acting executive editor. He did not return repeated telephone calls.
Attempts to contact Price, who has an unlisted number, were unsuccessful.
?(Fort Worth Star-Telegram executive editor Debbie Price) [Caption]


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here