Editors at the Los Angeles Times have stripped Michael Hiltzik of his Golden State column in the Business section and suspended him as punishment for posting anonymous arguments on his blog and those of critics. He also loses the blog and will be reassigned to unspecified duties after his suspension, via a staff memo today (yeah, dumped on a Friday afternoon) from Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Doug Frantz that says the issue was misrepresentation. Memo follows:
By now most of you know that Mike Hiltzik has acknowledged violating the paper's ethics guidelines. He did so by using pseudonyms to post a single comment on his blog on latimes.com and multiple comments elsewhere on the Web that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper.
Because of this violation, we are discontinuing Mike's column in the newspaper, Golden State, and his blog of the same name. In addition, we are suspending Mike without pay for a period of time. At the end of the suspension, he will be reassigned.
Killing a column is a serious step. We don't take it lightly. Mike did not commit any ethical violations in his newspaper column, and an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web.
But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of our ethics guidelines: We do not misrepresent ourselves and we do not conceal our affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world. We expect Times employees to behave with integrity and follow our guidelines in all journalistic forums.
A columnist has a special place within The Times. Editors, colleagues and, most of all, readers must trust the integrity and judgment of a columnist because of the freedom that comes with the job. Mike often used his column to pillory business leaders for duplicity or violating the trust of employees, shareholders or the public and we are no longer comfortable granting him that special place within our newspaper.
Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers. Some have said it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions. We don't see it that way. The Web makes it easier to conceal one's identity, and the tone of exchanges is often harsh. But the Web doesn't change the rules for journalists.
The Web has created new opportunities for newspapers. It is undoubtedly a big part of our future. It is a competitive and chaotic world. The most important attributes we bring to that new world are our reputation, our integrity and our determination to put out a great
newspaper that behaves in accordance with the highest ethical standards.
Dean and Doug
* Update: LATimes.com posted an editor's note taken from the staff memo, so there probably will be a note in the paper over the weekend as well.