The Gulfstream Story: What Really Happened?
Let me begin this post with an apology to Earl Maucker. In the original version of the story on the Gulfstream Park criminal investigation, I wrote that the Sun-Sentinel's executive editor instructed a reporter to contact the racino's advertising director. It was actually Deputy Managing Editor Phil Ward.
Not that Maucker wasn't involved. He was -- and the buck stops with him anyway. Or it should. One top-notch source at the newspaper says they hear the publisher, Howard Greenberg, had a hand in the decision as well.
So why did they kill the story? One source at the newspaper gave me a one-word answer: "Advertising." Some say it was just the Sentinel being the Sentinel, playing cautious and not trying to ruffle feathers (which of course is exactly what a good newspaper is supposed to do). One source said the top brass was concerned about damage the story might do to the gambling industry. Still another said it had to do with the use of anonymous sources.
Ultimately, I think a noxious mixture of all of the above led to the unfortunate decision. It's not that surprising, really. Any big, controversial story (I understand this one was slated for the top of the front page) wrankles newsrooms, which during trying times can be some of the most temperamental, tense places on earth. And if Maucker, who didn't return my call for comment, made the ultimate decision to kill the story, then I'm sure he felt he was journalistically justified.
But it was the wrong decision. And to me it's it's an example of the danger of the "Transformative Change" going on at the Sentinel. Knocking down the wall between the news side and the advertising and marketing departments is damn dangerous; yet Maucker talks of how it's one of his proudest accomplishments (at least in terms of the marketing side; read this). I shouldn't have to write this sentence: Reporters need to be shielded from marketing and advertising concerns, not have them thrust upon them by higher-ups. The blurring of the lines only makes bad decisions like the Gulfstream spike more likely to happen. Add to that the craven slogan "How Can We Help You?" (for some good laughs, read this ridiculous piece), and you don't have journalists anymore, but corporate concubines.
The really sad thing is that there apparently isn't a single editor at the Sentinel who can (or will) do the right thing. There is no Watergate-era Ben Bradlee there, no one to stand up to outside pressures, no matter what they may be, to make sure the journalism remains as pure as possible.