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Friday, June 28, 2013

Oregonian Editor Trying to Extinguish the Notion He Laid Off His Wife

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 10:44 AM

The offending article
  • The offending article

In a beautiful illustration of potential pitfalls in today's click-to-repost digital age, the editor (or vice president of content?) of the Oregonian has been working in the last day to stomp out a bit of misinformation from some heavily trafficked corners of the web: that he laid off his own wife.

Peter Bhatia has reached out to the New York Observer—which first misreported the tidbit and has appended a "clarification" that, really, should be a straight-up correction.

"This post is incorrect," Bhatia wrote yesterday, in the comments section below the piece. "I did not lay off my wife. I am editor of the paper and run the news operations. She is on the editorial page, separate from the news staff. Please remove this post."

Oregonian Managing Editor Therese Bottomly chimed in, too:

"Wow, how many things can someone get wrong in one short item?" she wrote, laying out a list of errors before closing with: "Did any reporting go into this? Remove this from your site. You're embarrassing yourself."

The post has been tweeted out at least 92 times.

The Huffington Post aggregated the Observer story, and has included a proper correction and the following statement from Bhatia, also submitted via the comments thread:

The Observer's post is wrong and I have asked for a retraction. I did not lay off my wife. She is on the staff here but I am the editor and supervise the news staff. She is on the editorial page staff, separate from the news staff. The report is wrong.

The AOL Jobs site also posted the tidbit. As of this morning it had not included a correction.

The confusion has its origins in Willamette Week's cover story this week about a round of harsh layoffs at the O that are accompanying the paper's move to a digital focus. The piece notes "Bhatia handled all but two of last week's newsroom layoffs himself," and then goes on to discuss possible metrics for the decisions.

After about 10 paragraphs, it says:

The layoffs included editorial writer and columnist David Sarasohn; home and garden reporter Bridget Otto, daughter of ex-publisher Stickel; and commentary editor Liz Dahl, Bhatia's wife.

Several of Bhatia's decisions struck many in the newsroom as heartless. Among them: He laid off a husband and wife, veteran editors Randy Cox and Joany Carlin, despite knowing Cox is fighting advanced kidney cancer.

It's true WW never explicitly states Bhatia made the call on firing his wife, but it's not hard to see how the New York Observer piece, written by (according to the website Linkedin) an intern, got there.

It's also, as one commenter notes on the WW site, "a delicious irony - you mean replacing professional reporters and editors with inexperienced, underpaid 'aggregators' of other people's work can result in factual errors? You don't say."

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