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Ralston Reports

A lack of credit where it is due

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On Tuesday, our dogged education reporter, Jackie Valley, was tipped to a major lawsuit being filed the next day against the state, alleging it inadequately funds education.

Jackie obtained a draft of the complaint and wrote a story she filed late in the evening and that we posted Wednesday morning at 6 AM. (The suit would not be filed until many hours later.)

About five hours later, the Review-Journal posted a story about the coming lawsuit, obviously having read Jackie’s piece and having reached out to the group behind the court action. No credit was given to Jackie – it was as if the RJ had known about the story through its own reporting.

It had not.

Late Wednesday, our equally intrepid health care reporter, Megan Messerly, was tipped that Nevada had its first coronavirus case. She worked all of her sources late into the evening, but could not get confirmation until early Thursday.

We published her story shortly before 7 AM. A little more than an hour later, the RJ published its own story, having no choice but to cite Megan’s reporting because no one else had the sources to get the major breaking news.

About an hour later, after health officials confirmed Megan’s reporting, the RJ updated its story and…erased the credit to Megan for breaking the news.

This is unheard of.

Twice within 48 hours, a media organization beaten on two major events chose to mislead its readers into believing The Nevada Independent’s reporting did not exist – in the second case, it briefly acknowledged it and then quickly erased any mention of us.

George Orwell would be proud.

I grant you that most readers don’t care and probably see this as an intramural fight not worth their time, especially when a potential pandemic that has now touched Nevada is much bigger news. And I know I harp on this – the serial ethical transgressions at the Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper – in my Twitter feed, and perhaps too much. But there is an important principle at stake here beyond the flouting of professionalism and common courtesy:

At a time when faith in the media is at a nadir, at a time when the Fourth Estate fraternity should be projecting honesty and transparency, the Review-Journal has for three years all but refused to acknowledge our existence, as if its bosses believed it could asphyxiate us by not crediting our work in their hallowed pages.

It is petty – this time it insults the work of two tremendous reporters who work so hard. It is unethical – maybe no one ever explained to the editor that plagiarism is wrong. And it gives our entire business a black eye at a time when we can least afford it.

I am sorry to say that other news organizations occasionally fail to credit us as well, but it is not as institutionalized as it is at the RJ. There is an active policy to try to make us invisible, but it has not worked: We are darkly visible to them, every day, as they rip off stories on our site — they followed us (without credit) on at least a half a dozen stories in February (that we noticed).

By contrast, we always credit other news outlets, including the Review-Journal, when they break news. (Do a search on our site for the RJ and then search their site for ours. QED.)

We are not alone in this display of RJ unprofessionalism and arrogance – others have also pointed out having their scoops pilfered. No other news organization I have ever heard of behaves this way – the Post routinely credits the Times and vice-versa, for example.

There is plenty of good reporting going on at the RJ. But it is tarnished by the attempted erasure of other news organizations’ good work.

There, as everywhere, the fish rots from the head down. I don’t speak of Adelson – no one believes he monitors what’s going on at a granular level. Nor do I refer to his minions, some of whom may call there once in a while.

I am talking about Executive Editor Glenn Cook, who essentially has laid down an edict to not mention us in the RJ’s pages. (How do I know this? RJ reporters have occasionally apologized to me privately because they included credit to us in a story, only to have it removed by Cook or one of his enablers.)

Ask yourself: Why is he mandating this to occur? And why are reporters not insisting their bylines be removed from stories if it does? Or tweeting credit from their own accounts to right the situation? Why are the other editors not rebelling?

When I was a reporter, if someone obviously had inside sources and got the scoop, I would always credit. I would feel like a fraud doing otherwise, whether an official source confirmed the initial report or not. It’s common sense and common decency.

But that is the toxic culture Cook has fostered, where he nurtures a White House “correspondent” who is actually a conservative columnist/Trump enabler, and where he allows quotes and pictures to be misleadingly edited when they reflect badly on Republicans.

Those are much worse journalistic breaches, of course. But pretending you are the only news organization that exists is a special combination of hubris and solipsism.

This is not complicated: “The news was first reported by The Nevada Independent.” How hard is that to write?

How far will Cook & Co. take the speak-no-Indy policy? In a self-incriminating video posted before the first coronavirus presser, two of Cook’s employees are seen having a conversation about how they were “scrambling” to get the story of the first case after “there was another organization that reported the news first…” Another organization!

If you care about a robust media marketplace, please support our work. No matter what Glenn Cook does, we won’t ignore the RJ when it breaks important news. We are happy to link to them and any other news organizations.

To do so is an ethical imperative. To do otherwise is ethically and morally bankrupt.

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