Plain Dealer explains why it was slow to publish a story explaining museum director’s resignation

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The reason for the Museum of Art director’s resignation is confirmed on Wednesday; it gets into the Plain Dealer print edition on Friday.

It should be noted that Plain Dealer chairman Terry Egger is on the Museum of Art board. (The Plain Dealer story mentions that very low in its story.)

Cleveland Scene was the first to report that museum director David Franklin had an affair with an employee who committed suicide five months ago. The alt-weekly reported: “We now know that trustees were well aware of the affair at least at the time of her death, and probably before.” (That would include the Plain Dealer’s Egger.)

Cleveland Scene on Wednesday tweaked the daily paper for its non-coverage of a big local story: “The Plain Dealer, whose publisher, Terry Egger, is a Cleveland Museum of Art trustee, has yet to report on the nature of the ‘personal reasons’ detailed above, though a reporter at the paper does have the same copy of the police report that we do.”

The Plain Dealer is getting beaten up in its comments section:

* “Why did Scene Magazine break this story instead of the Plain Dealer?”
* “How is it that Egger, a board member, doesn’t have a clue as to the contents of Franklin’s current graceful-exit contract?”
* “So after it took Cleveland Scene shaming the PD into actually doing their job and reporting the board’s knowledge of these events and the Plain Dealer’s own conflict of interest, you then drop any shred of decency and journalistic integrity by pasting the girl’s name, image, and history all over the site? Seriously?”

On Friday morning, Plain Dealer managing editor Thom Fladung responded to commenters:

[Reporter] Steve [Litt] had the police incident report and medical examiner’s report on Wednesday. We could have put a story online, based on those reports, that day. We did not, because I wanted more.

Fladung

Fladung

I thought it was crucial to get the museum board to speak directly, on the record, about these reports, the resignation of David Franklin and more. And to do so in the same story. To me, two of the crucial issues any story had to answer were whether Franklin’s alleged affair had anything to do with his resignation and why the museum has chosen to continue its relationship – on a consulting basis – with Franklin. Eventually, on Wednesday night, Steve was able to get museum board chairman R. Steven Kestner to speak to those issues, on the record. In fact, Steve was the first reporter to do so. And that, I thought, was the last crucial element for the story. Then, we did not publish the story online until late morning Thursday because I wanted to be sure it received a careful edit.

Did The Scene have a story on the police incident report first? Absolutely. Good for them. Good reporting. We chose to try to go beyond that police report. And I thought we did that. Now, you’re welcome to agree or disagree with that approach. You’re welcome to believe all of the above or not.”

Just asking, Thom: Would you have handled the story that way if Egger was not on the museum board?

* Cleveland Scene on Wednesday: Museum director resigned after affair, suicide (clevescene.com)
* Plain Dealer on Friday: Museum confirms that its director resigned over an affair




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