Roanoke Times criticized for coverage of sexual harassment suit

ROANOKE, Va. — Journalists of The Roanoke Times and Laker Weekly are united in denouncing The Roanoke Times’ recent news coverage of a wrongful termination suit brought against the newspaper by a former human resources worker who alleged a current newsroom manager sexually harassed her and others.

The Roanoke Times coverage of the lawsuit, which was settled on May 27, did not live up to the newspaper’s longstanding ethical guidelines for reporting about ourselves. Two weeks ago, members of the Timesland News Guild’s executive committee met with the paper’s regional editor to express concern over the allegations and disappointment with how the lawsuit’s filing and settlement were covered in the paper. The company has violated the trust of our readers and damaged the credibility of this institution and everyone who works here. The regional editor:

Broke precedent by delaying coverage of the lawsuit after it had been made public, taking 20 days from the lawsuit’s discovery by a court reporter until publishing a story;

Forbade a reporter assigned to the story from seeking comment from pertinent sources, an editorial decision that was made based on advice from a company lawyer (a partner at the same law firm that was defending the company in court);

Removed from a draft story all details enumerating the sexual harassment allegations and claims of company inaction and retaliation, in a meritless claim that the sexual misconduct allegations were not relevant to the lawsuit;

Mandated the placement of the story at the bottom of the business page and headline wording that made no mention of sexual misconduct or wrongful termination in an extraordinary instance of editorial overreach;

Directed staff to delete Twitter and Facebook posts that promoted the story of the lawsuit’s filing, hiding the story from potentially thousands of additional readers.

These editorial decisions further erode the trust of readers in an age of rising suspicion about the reliability of news coverage. The journalists of The Roanoke Times want our readers to know that we reject these editing decisions and continue to fight for the highest journalistic standards in all our coverage. We are deeply disappointed that some of the newspaper’s leadership does not share our commitment to full and fair coverage of our company.

On June 15, the guild’s executive committee, representing about 50 journalists and staff, sent a letter to management calling for the company to commission a thorough and independent investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations described in the lawsuit. The company responded and insisted it had “followed the guidelines of our policy and conducted a full and thorough investigation.” It did not provide, as requested, a detailed copy of the company’s complaint procedures, nor respond to a request for an independent and transparent investigation of the sexual harassment allegations.

Given the manner in which The Roanoke Times handled news coverage of this lawsuit, we question the thoroughness and credibility of the company’s investigation into the claims.

We publicly call on Lee Enterprises to commission an independent, transparent investigation into these allegations and to share an unredacted report of the findings with all newsroom employees. Nothing less will ensure workplace safety.

### About The Roanoke Times: Serving Roanoke and Southwest Virginia since its founding in 1886 by M.H. Claytor, The Roanoke Times publishes a daily print and online newspaper to about 30,000 print subscribers and more than 40,000 daily digital readers. Widely recognized for hard-hitting investigative stories on subprime lending, urban renewal, segregation, poverty, immigration and government corruption, the paper has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist three times. In the mid-2000s, The Roanoke Times was ranked as the best-read newspaper of its size in the country, according to market research firm Scarborough. It remains the largest professional news outlet in Southwest Virginia, employing roughly 50 journalists.

### About The NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America: The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 24,000 journalists and other media workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, including The Charlottesville Daily Progress, The Virginian-Pilot, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.