One thing we never hear about when journalists get laid off is what happens to their work after they are led out of the building. The leftover work -- notes, databases, even finished stories -- obviously belongs to the newspaper, but when it is published, what is the newspaper's responsibility to the former employee who produced it?Sure, some reporters work almost exclusively day-to-day, but most have projects on the back burner, or, in the case of award-winning investigative journalist Mc Nelly Torres, on the front.
When Torres learned she was being laid off in May with 29 other newsroom staffers at the Sun-Sentinel, she says one question went through her mind: What was going to happen to her supermarket food inspection story?
I contacted Torres, and she told me she spent several weeks on the project, finding evidence of unsafe food handling and other health violations at local stores. Torres, an Investigative Reporters & Editors board member, had developed a database, tagged along with inspectors, and written most of the piece. She says she asked her editor, Cyndi Metzger, about it and was assured that the story would be published under her name. The day after she was laid off, she went back to the office to do some touching up on the project. When PBS' documentary show Exposé featured Torres in a web piece about the decline ofinvestigative reporting, she mentioned the project. That's how much she cared about it.
Flash-forward to Sunday. The story was published on the newspaper's front page, but there was no byline on the story at all, which is highly unusual for an investigative piece. At the bottom of the text, it was noted that the article was written by another staff writer (and it had been rewritten, with essentially the same content). Torres was given only a contributing line on the story she'd birthed. Adding insult, the newspaper got her name wrong, leaving out the space between Mc and Nelly. After Torres wrote for the newspaper for four years, you might think they'd remember how her name goes.
She was disappointed but sent what she said was a respectful email asking about the decision to Sentinel Executive Editor Earl Maucker, Managing Editor Phil Ward, and Metzger. She didn't hear back from any of them but did talk with Metzger on the phone. Torres, who is now working freelance, says that Metzger, who didn't answer questions submitted from the Pulp, apologized but offered no explanation.
"That story was a labor of love. What happened to giving credit where credit's due?" Torres asks rhetorically.