Why the Daryl Katz Story Made the Edmonton Media Uncomfortable
I reacted the same way most people did last week when Variety.com broke the story that Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz allegedly offered a Brazilian actress and model money and movie roles in exchange for sex and companionship. Let's just say it was something well north of "Oh gee, this is interesting."
Moments later, I was wondering how Edmonton media outlets would handle the story. Would they credit Variety and run the story, would they do their own legwork, or would they just ignore it?
24 hours later I had my answer. Here's why the Katz story made so many Edmonton journalists and their bosses uncomfortable.
Here's What the Editor Thinks
I was a broadcast journalist for 15 years and for close to a decade was News and Public Affairs Director of an Edmonton radio station many years ago. When another media outlet broke a story that involved the personal life of a local celebrity, I always had two very different reactions. My first was that the story was really interesting and should be on the air. My second thought was usually very different and that was, is the story true and if it is, then how would we confirm it? Running an inaccurate story that cast a local celebrity in a negative light, was easy pickings for any lawsuit lawyer.
I’m sure the same two thoughts crossed the minds of many journalists in Edmonton last Thursday when the story broke. In some ways, they were likely wishing Variety hadn’t run the story, because now they were forced into several decisions, with the biggest being whether they should run it too.
Playing it Safe
Katz is obviously a very powerful person in Edmonton. He owns the Oilers and media outlets don’t want to get into the bad books of neither the billionaire, or the hockey team. Some sports reporters have incurred the wrath of the Oilers and other sports teams in the past and rarely came out the winners when they did.
From a journalistic standpoint, once you took a close look at the Variety.com story, it was clear that Katz wasn’t being sued or suing anyone. The PR firm in the US that Katz had apparently hired to try to keep his name clean was being sued by the husband of actress and model Greice Santo, who has a recurring role in the TV show Jane the Virgin (she's pictured above from her Instagram account). Her husband claims he was defamed by the pr firm. Santo’s claims about Katz are part of that lawsuit.
As a result, it would be possible for any media outlet that didn’t want to touch the story to reasonably come to the conclusion that since Katz isn’t part of the lawsuit, the story shouldn’t run because it’s he’s not a central figure. What he may or may not have said or done may never be proven.
I’m also pretty sure if a newspaper or TV station had its lawyer take a look at the story they would provide a recommendation to be careful with the way the story was written because the matter is before the courts, the lawsuit didn’t directly involve Katz and there weren’t any criminal charges involved, not to mention the track record of the husband who’s suing the pr firm. It’s better to be safe than sorry and what’s the benefit of running the same story as an American website the next day anyway?
The merits of running or not running the Variety story on any local media outlet would be a great subject for a panel discussion on journalism.
Few Stuck Their Necks Out
The biggest barometer of how a story is covered in Edmonton remains the battered old broadsheet The Edmonton Journal. The Journal didn’t touch it. The Edmonton Sun didn’t run the story either. If you’re keeping score at home, a scandalous allegation involving one of the most famous people in Edmonton didn’t get an inch of copy in either of Edmonton’s daily newspapers.
Over a year ago, the Journal and Sun merged newsrooms, because they’re both owned by Postmedia. In previous years, a story like this may have run in the Sun, which would have forced the Journal’s hand and it may have been forced to run some form of the story the following day. Now there’s no competition between the two, so one decision covers both newspapers. No muss, no fuss. The story doesn’t run and the papers don’t have to explain editorial decisions to their readers.
By contrast, the National Post, which is also owned by Postmedia, did run the Katz story, with very similar details as in the Variety story. There’s a big difference however between the story running in a national paper than a local one like the Journal or Sun. The impact is much larger at a local level.
I've been told the story was carried on Global TV and CTV Edmonton, but there's no trace of the story on CTV's website.
It’s worth noting the story was covered in the Daily Mail in London and the Hindustan Times in New Delhi, but not in the Edmonton Journal or Edmonton Sun.
The only outlet that did provide full coverage was CBC. It was carried on the news and on radio on Edmonton AM, where morning show host Mark Connolly interviewed CBC reporter Andrea Huncar about the story, who in turn had interviewed Santo. The story also ran on CBC’s website. Kudos to CBC for stepping up.
The Press Isn't so "Free"
When I ran a radio newsroom, I remember a number of discussions with the station’s management and sales staff about the merits of various stories that cast a sponsor in a bad light. Everything from manslaughter charges being laid following a fight outside a poplar nightclub that ended in death (Grant, why don’t you keep the name of the bar out of the story?) to a big car dealership facing consumer-related charges laid by the government (Grant that’s not news – nobody cares, why would you run that?). You get the idea. Money talks.
Although we take pride in “freedom of the press”, at times it’s not as free as many of us would like it to be. It’s business. I’m not suggesting this happened in the Katz story, but what I am saying is factors that few people would ever suspect go into whether controversial stories are run and if they are, how they are written and presented.
There’s also a tendency to avoid messy stories that involve the personal lives of celebrities, athletes, or private citizens. How much does the public have a right to know about a person who we don’t pay taxes to, like we do with a politician? Although in the Katz story it’s being argued since he got so much City money to build and operate Rogers Place arena, we may have a right to know more than we do for others.
The New Media Reality
Before the dawn of the internet and social media, local daily newspapers not running a racy story about a local celebrity was a much bigger thing than it is today. In those days, if people weren’t going to get their news from local newspapers, television or radio, they may not get it at all.
Those days are gone and one story on the Variety website can be shared on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and several others. The fact of the matter is, most young people didn't notice that The Edmonton Journal never covered the story and don’t care.
Once a story breaks, it’s open season now. Some Edmonton media outlets may very well have had good journalistic reasons for not running the Katz story, but the reality is it doesn’t matter. People may make their decisions about the credibility of any news outlet for their editorial decisions, but those decisions have far less impact on the information we now receive and share on a daily basis.
Photo credit @greicesanto
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