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Susan K. Livio, a statehouse reporter for the Star-Ledger, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Livio never contacted Kelley for WSJ knockoff

Rush to beat Kate King may have cut some corners

By David Wildstein, October 19 2018 8:18 am

The Wall Street Journal’s Kate King spent months painstakingly verifying details of allegations that former Murphy administration official Al Alvarez sexually assaulted a campaign volunteer during the 2017 campaign for governor of New Jersey.

King was so thorough, according to four individuals who spoke with her about the story that appeared online Sunday afternoon and on the front page of Monday’s print edition, that she frustrated the impatient New Jersey political insider community.  Many of them were clicking on the WSJ website for weeks.

The quest for accuracy and fairness, acknowledged by even those who would have preferred the story not run at all, led to some journalists of similarly high quality to break parts of the story – the details had been floating around the state for weeks – before King did.

That’s old school journalism.  Fair, unbiased, detailed and honest.  Kate King ought to get a medal for that.

Then there’s Susan K. Livio of the Star-Ledger.

Not as thorough.  Nowhere near as comprehensive.  Frankly, she was sloppy.

At 7:29 PM, King posted a story online about an investigation of Joe Kelley, the governor’s chief of staff, creating a hostile work environment for women during the Murphy for Governor campaign.  The story included details of an incident where Kelley threw a chair in the campaign office.

That story had been going around for a while too.  It’s the one Senate President Steve Sweeney hinted at during a press gaggle last week. King knew about it early on; it’s not immediately clear why she held it.

Livio, a source in her own newsroom said, heard the rumors and was also pursuing the story.  She was supposed to ask Gov. Phil Murphy about it during a Monday news conference, but she didn’t.  Instead, Livio pulled her punch.

With the word out that the WSJ was about to run the Kelley story, Livio began to cobble together a story of her own.  The Star-Ledger, which spent part of Thursday celebrating National Pasta Day with a story about “The 44 best pasta dishes you can eat in N.J,” was trying not to get scooped on a big New Jersey story, again, from a news organization that isn’t even based in New Jersey.

Livio sent e-mails to people associated with the campaign around 5:30 PM and didn’t connect with someone from the governor’s staff until around 8 PM, according to a source with direct knowledge of the reporting.

The version Livio eventually posted online at 10:17 PM contained no new information from the WSJ story that ran two hours and 48 minutes earlier.  She credits the WSJ extensively in her story.

Livio appears to have reached Julia Fahl, a witness to Kelley’s behavior.  Fahl “shared with NJ Advance Media late Thursday” the same statement she gave to the Wall Street Journal.

At no point in the story does Livio indicate that she contacted Kelley for comment, even though the story involved allegations against him.  Livio was aware, the source from her newsroom confirmed, that Kelley was traveling with Murphy on a trade mission to Germany this week.

Berlin is six hours ahead, and if she e-mailed or texted him around the same time she began contacting others about her story, it would have been 11:30 PM at the earliest in Berlin and Kelley could have already been asleep.

But early Friday morning, a source who has been in contact with individuals involved in the Star-Ledger story confirmed that Livio never reached out to Kelley yesterday with questions or comment.

Livio did not immediately respond to an 11:11 PM text message asking for comment on her story.

The NJ.com online version of Livio’s story included a photo of Murphy and his family from the night he was elected governor.  That might have been inadvertent; reporters don’t typically become involved in photography there.  Still, it was a peculiar choice.

In June, Livio was part of the reporting team that worked on a controversial story about a member of the governor’s family. Erin Banco and Claude Brodesser-Akner had the byline for the story, which included credit for a contribution by Ted Sherman. But a source at NJ Advance Media, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation, confirmed that Livio had also worked on the story.

Many newspapers, including the New York Times, now have a policy of crediting all individuals who contribute to a story.  The Washington Post publishes their Policies and Standards, which says that “significant reporting by a stringer, staff member, or other Post employee should be credited in a byline or a tagline at the end of a story.”

The policy allows readers to hold someone accountable for the story.

Editor’s note: Livio’s story was updated at 10:45 AM with comment from Murphy and Kelly.  Matt Arco, who is traveling with the governor in Germany, was added to the tagline of the story.

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