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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2

Truth on trial

Say what you mean and mean what you say, the old proverb goes. Basically, tell the truth. Duh!

People go to incredible lengths to avoid that basic tenant though, even when it’s demonstrated clearly that they’ve either outright lied or just missed the mark in truthfulness.

Take for example the current defamation lawsuit against CalCoastNews, filed by Arroyo Grande-based business owner Charles Tenborg for an article published on the web-based media outlet in 2012. The article’s authors, CalCoast co-founders and owners Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn, don’t mince words in the lede, saying that Tenborg “illegally transports hazardous wastes and has exposed taxpayers to huge fines by encouraging member public agencies to ignore state law.”

Sure, it’s not the snappiest lede ever written, but it makes its case. But the allegation is in the present tense, suggesting that this is just what Tenborg does, not something he may have done in the past. This is also on a website, existing in perpetuity.

You have to say what you mean, especially in news journalism, but apparently that’s exactly what Velie and Blackburn meant. They refused to take down the article after complaints from Tenborg, which eventually led to the defamation suit.

On March 13, CalCoastNews Editor and Cal Poly journalism professor Bill Loving took the SLO County courthouse stand to testify in the case and defend his colleagues. Loving teaches media law and ethics at Poly, so an expert on media ethics edited the piece that got CalCoast sued.

Emails between Loving and CalCoast staff were entered as evidence and showed that Loving had questions about the sources and attribution in the article.

On the day that Velie testified, March 10, she said she had had “concerns” about at least one statement in the article, but the story wasn’t taken down or changed. She had brought the concern to Loving, who said she should keep it up due to the pending litigation, Velie testified.

Later that day, Blackburn testified about the story, saying, “Actually, I didn’t see a whole lot of documents from [Velie],” according to tweets from a New Times reporter.

Sounds like Velie, Loving, and Blackburn are throwing each other under the proverbial bus. Another old proverb: A web-based news outlet divided against itself cannot stand!

But these accusations—too many anonymous sources, unsubstantiated claims, and leading the evidence—have followed CalCoast for years. Tenborg is just the first to take the company to court.

I hope I don’t sound petty, like one media outlet pecking at another while they’re in the middle of a scrap.

If I wanted to do that, I would mention that CalCoast got the credit for reporting originally done by the Sun.

We broke the story last year that folk-rock icon David Crosby settled for $3 million with a jogger he hit with his Tesla in Santa Ynez. Celebrity-stalkers extraordinaire, TMZ, picked up the story, but they gave credit to CalCoastNews for breaking the story based on an article by Velie posted after our story broke.

After repeated attempts by the Sun to get the story corrected, TMZ has done nothing to amend their faulty reporting.

And that still pisses me off. I meant it, and I said it.

The Canary is everyone’s anonymous source. Send your thoughts to canary@santamariasun.com.