A big story out of Newark last week about a shakeup at WBGO, the famed jazz station, was broken by Mark Bonamo, the editor of TAPintoNewark.
Bonamo wrote on January 29 about allegations that an African American employee was fired in retaliation for speaking up about racial discrimination at the radio station. That led the WBGO president, Amy Niles, to resign.
The New York Times wrote about racial tensions at the Newark jazz station four hours later, although it appears their story was in the works.
The Star-Ledger showed up the next day.
Some of their sourcing came from Reddit, a powerful news aggregation and discussion website.
Star-Ledger reporter Tennyson Donnie Coleman defended his story in a short interview with the New Jersey Globe.
“We broke the news,” Coleman said. “We independently verified everything ourselves.”
Coleman said he didn’t know about Bonamo’s TAPintoNewark story, which is why the news site was not credited for breaking the story first.
“I didn’t see the story. We knew the New York Times had it,” he said, explaining why his story linked to the Times but not to TAPintoNewark. “I did search to see what I could find out. I hadn’t really seen anything about it .”
A Google search of several relevant search terms ranks the TAPintoNewark story at number two, behind the New York Times.
“We didn’t say that that was an exclusive or anything, Coleman told the Globe. “It wasn’t like we aggregated.”
TAPintoNewark appears to have supplanted the Star-Ledger as the go-to place for local news in Newark.
Years ago, the Star-Ledger had a full Essex County bureau and maintained offices at Newark City Hall and at the Essex County courthouse. Last month, their lone local reporter dedicated to the Essex beat, Karen Yi, left to join WNYC.
One of the frustrating parts of the news business in an era where budget cuts have slashed the staffs of daily newspapers is that editors push their reporters to write stories that others have broken.
There’s little about the news that is proprietary, if the writer credits the source – or can re-manufacture the story on their own.
The Star-Ledger, also known as NJ Advance Media or NJ.com, has been using a breaking news desk to cull stories from other sources.
The loss of experienced staff and the advent of editors who use clicks as metrics to determine news, have led to some issues for daily newspapers.
That’s caused some problems for the once-fabled New Jersey paper.
Kobe Bryant controversy
The tragic death of basketball legend last week led the Star-Ledger to run a clickbait story with a photo slide show, “Kobe Bryant and 15 other athletes and celebrities who died in plane and helicopter crashes.”
That set off a wave of criticism on social media.
“It’s not just a single person responsible for this — it takes a history of horrible decision making and misplaced priorities at all levels in an organization to enable such a piece,” Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Murphy tweeted. “The chase for clicks continues to poison us.”
The backlash led the Star-Ledger to express regret.
“We previously published a headline that was not appropriate in light of today’s news. The headline has been updated.,” NJ.com tweeted. “We apologize.”
But the story itself remained on the NJ.com website.
“They don’t get it. The story is still up. The headline wasn’t the issue. It’s that they so clearly tried to make ad money off a man’s death through garbage content while his body was likely still in the wreckage,” tweeted Stephen Stirling, who left the Star-Ledger in December after ten years as a top reporter. “Take the L, move on and be better.”
In 2019, Star-Ledger reporter Taylor Tiamoyo Harris told the Globe how she found out about a lawsuit filed against a local mayor.
“My editor found it on Morristown Green, and he said, ‘go find it on PACER,’ Harris said.
PACER provides on-line access to federal court records.
From there, Harris, who says she’s working on the breaking news desk, was able to effectively reverse-engineer a story that at least three other news outlets had run days earlier.
“That’s how journalism works,” Harris explained.
This story was updated at 10:34 AM.