The story of a Bulletin reporter who was fired after complaining about how the paper was spinning its real estate coverage went statewide this afternoon when Oregon Public Broadcasting picked it up.
OPB reporter Ethan Lindsey described how ex-Bulletin reporter David Fisher was skeptical of appraiser Dana Bratton's public prediction on Feb. 25 that the sagging local real estate market would perk up within two months and got comments from experts who questioned it.
But when Fisher picked up his copy of the paper at breakfast next morning, Lindsey said, he "almost spit out his coffee" because the skeptical quotes had been edited out.
After staying home a couple of days to cool off, Fisher confronted his boss, Business Editor John Stearns, and told him he was unhappy about the way his story had been cut and, more generally, about how he was being pressured to spin real estate stories in a positive direction.
"To me, that [Bratton story] was a harbinger of worse things to come and I really didn't want to put my name on it anymore," Fisher told Lindsey. The following day, Fisher was fired.
Bratton's remarks were made at a meeting to kick off the Central Oregon Builders Association and Central Oregon Association of Realtors "Best Buyers Market in 20 Years" campaign - a campaign that, among other things, aims to turn the market around by using the builders' and realtors' "economic influence" to get the local media to report more "good news."
"We want to make sure that the media knows that if things are going bad for the entire industry, it's going to affect them as well," COBA Executive Director Tim Knopp told Lindsey. "And it has. We just need balance. We'd have discussions with any media outlet about that and I think they want to do that."
Lindsey reported that "other local outlets, including the Sisters Nugget newspaper and Bend Living magazine, also say they have heard criticism from advertisers that negative media is hurting the housing market."
Bulletin Editor John Costa declined to discuss the details of Fisher's departure, but denied the paper is caving in to the real estate and development lobby and dismissed the Bratton story as minor.
"Frankly, in the grand scheme of real estate stories, it ranks, I don't even think it achieves the middle," Costa said. "It's basically one of those stories that we all do, you do them too, in which an editor says go to the luncheon, cover what is said at the luncheon, and that's what came back."
Costa also said he's chummy with realtors and other advertisers, but denied that affects how the paper covers stories.
"A lot of the people who are our advertisers, I know them," he said. "We all know them. I've been around here, myself, my family, my kids, my boss. We play golf. We go to charity events, we raise money together for causes. So I know them. If they want to talk to me, I am perfectly happy to take calls from them."
You can read a full transcript of the OPB report here.
Meanwhile, The EYE can't wait to see how Bratton's prediction pans out. April 25 is the magic date - mark your calendars.