Friday, May 30, 2008

Perhaps Bob Heisse Can Explain Why This Isn't a Problem

There was more questionable behavior at the Centre Daily Times this morning. Jennifer Thomas reported on the bankruptcy filing of Uni-Mart without any mention of a conflict of interest she and the paper have which could call the reporting into question.

Here's the background.

Last November it was revealed by a local blog that Banyan Homes, whose owner Armen Sahakian is a member of the family which which owns Uni-Mart, was suing Thomas and the CDT for defamation.

...CDT reporter Jennifer Thomas, who teaches COMM 260W under the name Jennifer Bosak, is the person at the middle of this lawsuit where "Banyan Homes is currently seeking between seven to eight figures in damages from the Centre Daily Times." If you're numerically challenged, that's between $1 Million and $99 Million. WOW!

Apparently the lawsuit is over some stories Thomas/Bosak wrote about Banyan in 2005. A search on CDT's website shows four articles written by Thomas/Bosak between June 6, 2005 and September 11, 2005 regarding Banyan Homes. The first article in the set has the headline "Dream Home Nightmares," and is apparently about 12 home owners who filed complaints about Banyan. We can't read the articles because you need an account, and really...psssht.

We're not going to comment on the merit of this lawsuit, or Thomas/Bosak herself (especially since we can't read the articles). But SOS wants the CDT, Collegian and Penn State Live to cover this story, which just isn't going to happen. The CDT will say that "newspapers write about the news, they don't make it" (although some might argue that with the Harrisburg Patriot-News ... oooooh!), and there's no shot that Penn State Live is writing anything about it.

Until 2004, Armen had been a stock holder in Uni-Mart which, in that year, was acquired, along with several other Sahakian family businesses, by Green Valley Acquisition Co LLC. Armen, however, is a stockholder in Green Valley Acquisition Co LLC.

A source close to the CDT informed me that as of last month that the suit had not been settled. Hence Aramen's financial interest in Uni-Mart and the paper and Thomas' involvement in a lawsuit with Armen presents a classic case of a conflict of interest.

At the very least, readers should know this. And while the paper can't eliminate the conflict in total, it could have mitigated it to some degree by assigning the story to a different reporter. I guess that's too much to expect from a paper which has never seen fit to mention the lawsuit in the first place.

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