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I think Sheldon Adelson made a good choice as editor of his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and by good I mean someone who will do his bidding, for better or worse.

Much of the publicity about the casino magnate’s acquisition of the Las Vegas daily has focused on the degree to which he will use it as a vehicle to advance his political and financial interests. Among other things, he is said to be interested in luring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, a move that certainly could be a good fit culturally.

The R-J’s new editor, announced Friday, is Keith Moyer, who should be a valuable tool in the owner’s effort to expand his already giant footprint in the desert and maybe even to get the Raiders to move. Adelson’s always been a big GOP booster. Without any senior editors actually on board Friday, the paper endorsed Marco Rubio for president.

In recent years Moyer has been a journalism academic in Minnesota but before that he was an editor for the giant Gannett chain, and an editor and publisher for the better-regarded McClatchy chain.

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Keith Moyer, new editor in Las Vegas

I worked for Moyer for several years at McClatchy’s Fresno Bee and it was for the most part an enjoyable experience. He’s a smart and pleasant fellow and he understands journalism. When he came to Fresno from Rochester, N.Y., he brought with him a stable of editors who had worked with him elsewhere and who were fiercely loyal to him. It was, to some extent, a cult of personality. Fortunately, they were a talented crew. A little odd, maybe, but talented.

When Moyer started in Fresno as executive editor, I was a reporter, the muckraking, troublemaking sort of reporter that editors simultaneously love and hate. For reasons that I’ll never understand, Moyer’s team decided I would be more useful on the desk. They persuaded me to become an assistant metro editor, initially in charge of political and government coverage. I don’t know why I agreed to do it. Money, I suppose.

Overall, it wasn’t horrible. Reporters working under me did some good work. At one point we put together a team to investigate point shaving by the Fresno State basketball team. We did a fine job, turning up significant evidence on the gambling front and even more on the illegal recruiting front. Jerry Tarkanian was the coach. However, Moyer lost interest and started killing stories after a bogus lawsuit was filed and it became clear that we weren’t likely to win any big prizes for our efforts.

Unfortunately, other things happened to rival that. For instance, there was that morning in 1997 when Moyer excitedly motioned me into his office.

The city of Fresno had been negotiating for months with an investment group that had obtained the franchise for a Triple A baseball team. They wanted to build a stadium in Fresno, or rather they wanted the city to build one for them. The talks went on and on, in private, and city officials vowed throughout that city money would not be used for a stadium.

Moyer was grinning. He said he had been at a meeting the night before with a representative of the team owners and others. A deal had been struck for construction of a downtown stadium and we were to have an exclusive on the story, a definite big deal.

So tell me the details, I said. Reporters on my team would be writing the story.

Well, he replied, the investment group would put up something like $20 million and the city would put in around $8 million after the stadium was completed, and the county government would provide a loan.

Wow, I said. Then I said it was surprising that the city had agreed to cough up taxpayer money after vowing for so long that it wouldn’t.

“We’re not going to get into that,” said Moyer.

I imagine I said something like “What?” or “Huh?” or “What the hell are you talking about?”

He said he had agreed that our story would not mention the city’s role.

I hoped he was joking. When it became obvious that he wasn’t, I’m sure I said something like “We don’t have any choice.”

His grin was long gone. He was flat out angry when he said, “I knew you were going to be like this.”

The conversation went on for a bit longer, with him doing most of the talking. Finally he said, “OK, dammit, put it in but not before the jump” or words to that effect. He meant don’t mention the city’s investment on the front page. Save it for the continuation of the story on page A16 or wherever. It’s called burying the lede, which usually happens because of a lapse in judgment and not by design.

I can’t find a copy of the story so I can’t be sure, but my recollection is that, at the end of the day, the part about the city putting up a few million dollars of taxpayer money wound up in the third paragraph. Call it a compromise. Based on news value, I would have put it in the first graph, but, like I said, I was a bit of a troublemaker.

Moyer certainly didn’t do anything evil that day or any of his other days at the Bee, as far as I know. Maybe his only sin that morning in 1997 was being overly exuberant about arranging an important scoop, but that’s not how it felt. I believe that if we had done what he had agreed to, we would have become conspirators rather than journalists. It became clear that day that I wouldn’t make it to retirement at the Bee. I moved on in 1998. Moyer kept moving up.

In Las Vegas, there was hope early on that Adelson’s recent purchase of the Review-Journal would not be the journalistic nightmare that it appears to be. There was the noble editor who reported that Adelson was the new owner, something Adelson the gazillionaire didn’t want reported. The optimists in the world of journalism cheered that as a hopeful sign. But that editor is gone now and word continues to trickle out about Adelson wanting to put his stamp on the news side of the operation and not just the financial side. Already there are tales of stories being killed and lists of troublemaking reporters being drawn up.

Adelson’s people reportedly interviewed quite a few candidates before hiring Moyer, who got to know the R-J’s new publisher, Craig Moon, while both were toiling in the Gannett trenches. I hope they get along great and do some solid journalism of the type they are capable of producing.  I also hope that they remember that the newspaper’s job, no matter who owns it, is to cover things like the effort to attract the Raiders — but not to make it happen.

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Uomo d'affari in crisiMore than a year out of the daily grind of newspaper journalism, I was interested in Monday’s announcement of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes but not as interested as I once was. Many of those who began their journalism careers when I did have hung up their green eyeshades or have sought more secure work in the used-car industry or fireworks sales.

In truth, Pulitzer announcement day is something that most working journalists would really rather not talk about. It’s the day that friends, or rivals, receive recognition for working for a newspaper that does not require the reporters to take turns writing garden club news or covering Rotary Club luncheons, none of which have ever been newsworthy. It’s the day, in other words, that most journalists don’t win Pulitzers.

The big story of this week’s announcement was not the number of prizes won by the New York Times, recognition that causes great distress among the many New York Times haters on the right, most of whom have never read the Times. Instead, it was that two prize winners had left the industry, fleeing from the uncertain fate of newspapers.

Often there are prize winners who by virtue of talent or good fortune have moved up the industry pecking order by the time the prizes have been awarded. There always seemed to be a young reporter for the Asbury Park Press who celebrated the award at the new desk at the Washington Post. This was different.

A 39-year-old reporter, Rob Kuznia of the Torrance Daily Breeze, was part of a three-person team that won the Pulitzer for a series of articles on a corrupt school district. He had to leave his PR job to join in the festivities. He had departed the Breeze months earlier because he couldn’t pay the rent on his newspaper salary. (By the way, former Monterey Herald Editor Carolina Garcia is part of the editing team at the Daily Breeze.)

It was a similar story in Charleston, S.C. A team of reporters there won a Pulitzer for a series on domestic violence. Writer Natalie Hauff had left some months earlier, however. Not for the Boston Globe or the NY Times but for a PR job in county government.

During the hastily scheduled celebration in Torrance, the executive editor didn’t try to gloss over the reality that most newspapers ain’t what they used to be, pointing out all the empty desks in the newsroom. These are trying times for newspapers, but you already knew that.

So you’re all probably wondering if I ever won a Pulitzer, right? The truth is that I did come kinda, sorta close once upon a time, but it wouldn’t have been deserved.

The journalism in question was the Fresno Bee’s coverage of the Coalinga earthquake of 1983. It was a pretty big earthquake. Forty miles away in the Fresno Bee newsroom, the city editor got so scared he ran down the stairs and into the parking lot before the shaking ended. It would have turned out better for our coverage if he had kept running.

Lots of houses were ruined in Coalinga. A few downtown buildings collapsed. The best part of our first day’s report was the photography of Paul Kuroda, who was only 15 miles away when the shaking started. There no fatalities but quite a few injuries. That led to the huge headline on our first story, but it wasn’t a zinger: QUAKE HURTS 25.

But that clunker isn’t what cost us the Pulitzer. The main problem was that the city editor’s parents were in town that week, so each day as we finished our package of stories on the quake, he needed to leave to see the folks rather than stay behind to plan the next day’s coverage as he should have. That meant that we started fresh each day, with none of the reporters knowing what the assignment would be until 10 or 11 or so. We didn’t have any reporters staying overnight in Coalinga, so we lost all sorts of time traveling back and forth and getting reorganized each morning.

Our coverage was OK overall. I was the lead writer most days and I know how to milk a tragedy. But, beyond the Day 1 photography, there really was nothing special.

Even so, Editor George Gruner was tipped off a couple days before announcement day that we were going to win the Pulitzer for best local news coverage. He kept it under his hat until the big day. Then, just as the prize machine was cranking up in NYC, George got up on a chair in the middle of the newsroom and started to sniffle.

“We almost won a Pulitzer,” he told us. Turned out that the Pulitzer board had overruled the Pulitzer committee at the last minute and had decided that coverage of natural disasters wasn’t a good choice for the big prize. Too easy. Too predictable. So the prize in our category went to Newsday for its coverage of the Baby M case. I don’t remember what that was about but it wasn’t a natural disaster.

We celebrated our near win with near beer.

Oh yeah, the local reporting prize the next year went to coverage of a flood.

I was pleased Monday to see that a long-time acquaintance, L.A. Times reporter Diana Marcum, formerly of the Bee, won the prize for feature writing. She told the stories of people affected by the great California drought. I guess you could say she won for coverage of a natural disaster, but then there are all those New York Times haters who argue that there’s nothing natural about the drought and that, like everything else, it’s the fault of those liberals, especially the ones at the Times. Regardless, here’s a link to her stories, which are very much worth reading.

Here’s how Marcum opened a story, datelined Madera, last December:

 When a man of 91 is downright cantankerous and has been on his land longer than most everyone else has been alive, he wastes no time speaking his mind. So after his new neighbor started sinking a well to plant a water-sucking almond orchard in the middle of the worst drought he’d ever seen, James Turner hurried over.  

“How deep you going to dig your well?” 

 Five hundred feet, Davinder Singh told him. 

“My well is 300 feet. Why, you’re going to take my water!” 

Singh, a man of gentle humor, gave no answer.

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