Times sitting on staff prize cash for Bell coverage - more than two years

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for latimes-building-from-above.jpgInteresting blog story from Erik Wemple at the Washington Post this afternoon. He reports that the Los Angeles Times still has not fully disbursed the $35,000 award from the Selden Ring Award at USC for coverage of the city of Bell scandals. The lead reporters, Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb, got their $5,000 shares each shortly after the award was announced in February 2011. Yes, 2011. Some other staffers on the series also received a cut. But there is money left over, and a year after the prize was won Gottlieb apparently queried the editors and was told the cash would be used for a celebration. When no party had materialized by last November, Gottlieb sent a new, more pointed email to editor Davan Maharaj and other superiors. The Post quotes Gottlieb:

“It has been more than a year and a half since the Pulitzer and the other awards we won for the Bell coverage. There clearly isn’t going to be a party, and it was outrageous to plan on using the prize money to pay for one. It’s time for that money to be distributed. If this makes me a bad guy for bringing this up, so be it.”
Last month, Gottlieb reportedly emailed the president of the paper, Kathy Thomson, to ask what gives: "It’s ironic that I would have to write this note to you considering that this award-winning stories focused on financial abuse and lack of accountability and transparency.” Now it's the middle of June, and the Times had flack Nancy Sullivan tell Wemple that there just hasn't been time to throw a party. What Wemple may not know is that the Times has found the time and money to throw several other parties since the Ring prize, including for its annual internal staff awards and for the annual LA Times Book Prize. Time is most definitely not an honest explanation for waiting two-plus years to throw around a few free drinks, nor apparently is money: Gottlieb says in the Post piece he's been told there is $5,000 left in the kitty for a party. That would pour a lot of drinks at any downtown watering hole where Times staffers typically celebrate. With that amount to spend, they could pretty much invite the residents of Bell.

Says Gottlieb in Wemple's post:

"Nothing’s happened. Nothing would have happened at all unless I caused a fuss, which is ridiculous,” he says. “I mean, what’s going on here? We don’t get raises, the paper’s always crying the blues about money, yet they’ve been so adamant on not giving out this money.”

Sullivan's fuller statement to Wemple:

There is unequivocally no financial abuse, lack of accountability or transparency involved. The Los Angeles Times is, as always, focused on delivering quality journalism to our readers. Winning accolades for that work is enormously gratifying and any accompanying financial awards are appreciated and distributed fairly. There is nothing unusual in utilizing a small portion of the Selden Ring prize money to honor the large team of Times staffers who made our Bell coverage a reality. In fact, the decision to do so was voted on by the team itself. The fact that the celebration hasn’t happened yet speaks to the busy nature of newsrooms.

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