The term âfake newsâ gets thrown around frequently these days, but the Santa Clara Weekly might want to slow its roll in claiming moral high ground. Earlier this month, Fly reported on Weekly publisher Miles Barberâs lawsuit against blogger Robert Haugh, whoâs been critical of his former employerâparticularly about favorable coverage forÂ the San Francisco 49ers and certainÂ elected officials. A day after the story was published, Weekly editor Angie Tolliver emailed a demand for correction, noting that Haugh was fired instead of departing voluntarily. Having been accused last year of âhipster racismââwhatever that meansâby Weekly reporter Carolyn Schuk, Fly elected to pose some questions to Tolliver and ask why Haugh was sacked. Tolliver replied by email: âYou know I legally canât disclose the reason for an employeeâs termination.â Fly informed Tolliver it did not know this, as state law doesnât forbid former employers from disclosing the reasons for a termination, though thereâs civil liability exposure for maligning a personâs employment prospects, which includes disclosing that they were fired.
Fly also asked how the Weekly felt about its City Hall reporter, Schuk, reporting on a nonprofit arts foundation she created without mentioning this little detail to readers. Melissa McKenzie, a fellow Weekly staffer and board member for the nonprofit, also neglected to disclose this conflict to readers. Fly then asked if it was ethically appropriate for its journalists to report on elected officials who have also supported theÂ Santa Clara Performing Arts Foundation. Elected officials who have given tax-deductible cash to the nonprofit, according to its website, include: Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmorâs real estate company; council members Teresa OâNeill and Pat Kolstad; City Clerk Rod Diridon Jr.; U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna; and former Mayor Jamie Matthews. Other donors include the 49ers, who were noted as âoutstandingly generous sponsors,â and developers who have major contracts in front of the City Council, such as the Related Companiesâ $6.5 billion retail project. Tolliver then said all of her emails with Fly wereÂ âoff the record,â which again is not how journalism works. Common practice requires both sides to agree to speaking terms before a conversation. Tolliver told Fly that she doesnât believe Weekly reporters are influenced by their volunteer organizations.â Schuk refused to meet with Fly to review her nonprofitâs financials, which do not have to provide itemized accounting to the IRSÂ because the nonprofit reports annual gross receipts of $50,000Â or less. Schuk ignored emails askingÂ why she and the WeeklyÂ have repeatedly failed to disclose her conflicts of interest to readers.
Correction:Â In the March 22 Fly column âRecord Skips,â FlyÂ wrote thatÂ Santa Clara Weekly writer Carolyn Schuk had âroutinelyâ reported on a nonprofit arts organization that she founded and operates, according to the nonprofitâs website, without disclosing an apparent conflict of interest. We should have more precisely written that she wrote two bylined stories, according to the nonprofit, which doesnât necessarily add up to a routine, and that Weekly writers, including Schuk, wrote at least 10 stories about the Santa Clara Performing Arts Foundation over a three-year period. And while it is true that Fly asked if it was ethically appropriate for journalists to ask story subjects for money, we didnât have any actual proof that writers were âshaking down sources for moneyâ as we indelicately put it, or that Schuk personally benefitted in any way from the philanthropy. An attorney for Schuk notes that her client âreceives no salary or any other sort of monetary compensationâ from the nonprofit. San Jose InsideÂ regrets the errors.