Well, L'affaire Leon at the Weekly certainly didn't come to a conclusion we expected. We crawled out of bed this morning only to read that he'll no longer be appearing in their pages. If you want to read his Infiltrator features, you'll have to buy his books. But was this really all Harmon's fault? Or is it a symptom of much bigger problems at the Weekly? Morale, and therefore quality, may be in decline after the departure of John Mecklin. We communicated with a number of current and former writers who expressed at best indifference, and at worst serious concern about the direction of the paper.
But Harmon Leon isn't the only name that's recently disappeared from the masthead. It's no secret that Staff Writer Tommy Craggs left the paper over differences with Executive Editor Tom Walsh. And if we deconstruct Tom's public correction for this gaffe (scroll down), we can see why. First of all, there's no expression of apology or regret to the readers of the Weekly or the subjects of the story. Secondly, while the problem came to their attention almost immediately after publication, the online article was only updated yesterday. And unlike other local publications that have significantly modified a story and note as much in the online versions, the Weekly didn't feel they needed to acknowledge it.
For a paper that trashes their competition for not providing "deeply researched, credible coverage," [PDF] we wonder why a lead editor would let a piece run just on the strength of a writer's assurance. In the interest of full disclosure, this SFist has certainly had his facts rigorously checked when filing stories for the Bay Guardian, and in our naivete would have expected the same from any other professional publication. We don't even get paid here at SFist, but we still hold ourselves to that standard .
If the editorial department really was blissfully unaware that a writer was selling them snake juice, then one wonders what other mistakes have slipped by. If not, then to publish something questionable without a note to their readers is a rather severe breach of trust (and the public response would amount to equivocation). From what we understand, there were questions raised about the piece before it was published, and that they were not followed up on.
Since a piece by Matt Palmquist about local fabulist exraordinaire JT Leroy was spiked for this week's issue after the error was first caught by readers and reported in the blogosphere, it's obvious that Tom Walsh can certainly exercise his own discretion around the office. But then he and the New Times Executive Editor Michael Lacey go back to Walsh's days as founding editor of the New Times Broward-Palm Beach nearly a decade ago. Now in San Francisco after a five year stint in Sacramento, Walsh is clearly a rising star in the New Times empire.
Honestly, we hate to see any writer lose a job. Trust us, we've lost a few. We really would have rather read an apology than be handed someone's byline on a platter. We worry that the disaffection amongst the writers may lead to the Weekly becoming a weaker, less worthy competitor. We took Harmon with a grain of salt, but he was entertaining, and we're sad to see him go. Tom Walsh's short tenure has proven similarly entertaining, but not so much in the good way.(as does the SFist editorial staff, which considers itself ultimately accountable for every piece we run -- ELB)