For the last two weeks an online news site in San Diego has been reporting on the financial troubles of the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, the 22-year-old weekly LGBT newspaper. According to the reports, the paper reduced its circulation significantly but did not notify its advertisers of the change and owes more than $120,000 to its printer.
The stories, published by the web-based San Diego News Network, also disclosed that the IRS has placed a tax lien against the gay paper amounting to $45,592 and questioned if the business was paying for the personal expenses of its publisher, Michael Portantino, whose brother is state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.
The stories also paint Portantino as a hypocrite for attacking the leaders of a local charity and the former members of San Diego Pride’s board for misleading the community and mismanagement of funds at the same time as his paper was having its own financial and legal problems.
In an emailed response to the website’s questions, Portantino dismissed the accusations that he and his staff misled advertisers. But he did acknowledge that:
“Like every print media company in the country we have had to make cuts and circulation is down as we’ve said so on our own website.”
The stories about a troubled LGBT media property, sadly, are nothing new. The San Diego paper’s troubles are just more in a long list of LGBT papers around the country that have struggled to survive the economic downturn. Sadly, some have folded, like the Chicago Free Press and the New York Blade, while others have survived tumultuous and near death experiences to continue publishing, such as the Washington Blade.
However, there is one thing that is unique and stands out about the San Diego News Network’s coverage. Neither of the two stories carry bylines.
Rather, they are merely said to be “by staff.”
It isn’t until the bottom of the articles that readers are told who wrote the articles. And helping to pen both was Joseph Pena, who it is disclosed is a “former employee” of the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times.
He now works for both the San Diego News Network website and its sister website the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.
Which of course raises the question: should Pena have been allowed to help write a story about his former employer?
To me that seems a clear conflict of interest and something that should have disqualified Pena from working on the stories.
Since both articles list multiple staff writers in their end-notes, it doesn’t appear that the websites were lacking in reporters to cover the story.
This is not to besmirch Pena or his journalistic abilities. And it is clear from both articles that the websites had well-placed sources, documents and internal emails to back up the stories’ claims.
But by allowing a former employee of the object of the websites’ investigation to work on the articles unfortunately could lead readers to question if the coverage as some sort of payback or retribution.