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Truthdigger of the Week: Stephanie Grimes, Former Editor at the Las Vegas Review-Journal

Posted on May 14, 2016

By Emma Niles

  Stephanie Grimes followed up her unceremonious firing from the Las Vegas Review-Journal with an exposé about the new regime. (via Chase Stevens / Facebook)

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

On May 5, Stephanie Grimes uploaded a post to Medium titled “Why I’m out at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.” Grimes, who had been the publication’s features editor, was let go five months after the family of billionaire Sheldon Adelson purchased it for $140 million. Before diving into Grimes’ exposé, it’s important to understand the Review-Journal’s tumultuous recent history.

The purchase was initially shrouded in mystery. Fortune reported on the purchase, at first speculating that the Koch brothers had shelled out the insane sum. But in less than a week, the mystery was solved as it was revealed that Adelson, a Vegas casino mogul and major benefactor to the Republican Party, had purchased the paper (but arranged the purchase through his son-in-law.) Fortune wrote at the time:

What remains unclear is why Adelson has refused to come forward. Clearly this isn’t a vanity play, and it’s also hard to imagine it as a financial investment (particularly given the steep price tag). What that leaves is political influence, particularly in a swing state like Nevada. That said, however, it would seem difficult to direct editorial coverage when the actual editorial writers are in the dark as to who signs their paychecks.

Days after the purchase was announced, the paper’s editor, Mike Hengel, resigned. A source told Politico that Hengel said the new ownership “had the makings of an adversarial relationship.” Then, reports began to surface in early January of editorial manipulation. Storify reported:

On Jan. 4, Dave Butler—executive editor of the Providence Journal, another Gatehouse paper—spoke to editors at the Las Vegas Review-Journal about the difficulty in reporting on one’s ownership. On Jan. 5, he spoke with the full newsroom. Features editor Stephanie Grimes live-tweeted the Jan. 4 meeting.

This was Grimes’ first act of rebellious transparency. She writes on her Medium post that “[m]anagement was unhappy with that decision, to put it mildly,” and that she was not allowed to live-tweet an important staff meeting the following day. She says:

I walked back into the newsroom to the reality that I could find myself without a job, and soon. But I didn’t regret my choice. I still don’t. I firmly believe that had that meeting not been made public, our newsroom (and by extension, our readers) would have been in a worse position after the fact than we find ourselves in now. The level of national scrutiny that followed that meeting was too great to allow management to make many wrong moves afterward. I would do it again if I found myself in the same circumstances.

Changes in staff continued: The RJ got a new publisher and a new editor. But, Grimes writes, “the announcement was clouded” by a report on Politico, which said:

[S]tories involving new owner Sheldon Adelson are being reviewed, changed or killed almost daily.

Further, the newsroom is abuzz with word of a list of a half a dozen or so journalists whose work has rubbed Adelson the wrong way over the years, and who may soon be targeted for departure in what one insider describes as a “house-cleaning.”

Grimes writes that although she was never told to “kill a story,” the possibility frightened her. Time passed. Then, sometime near the end of April, she began to face more problems. The new editor, Keith Moyer, “threatened to fire people he didn’t feel were loyal to the RJ,” says Grimes. She writes:

I’ve known this was coming from day one. A hyper-conservative middle-aged white man walks into a newsroom and finds a 26-year-old mixed-race woman in charge of an entire department? The humanity! Keith never made me feel welcome in his newsroom and made it clear in every conversation that he didn’t trust me. It was only a matter of time before he pulled the trigger. And yes, absolutely, it’s possible he just didn’t like me for the job and wanted to rely on experience rather than potential. But the timing is off, and I’ve had measurable success as features editor. So I suspect my undoing was that I made it very clear when I disagreed with something that was happening in the newsroom.

Grimes took to Twitter on May 5 to announce that she’d been fired.

Politico spoke with Grimes about the conditions of her termination:

“On Thursday morning, Moyer called Grimes and told her that she was no longer an employee of the paper, effective immediately. According to Grimes, Moyer did not give a reason for firing her, other than to say that he wanted to change the leadership of the features department…She said that her keycard access was turned off during the call, so she can no longer access the Review-Journal newsroom. She was told that her personal effects in the newsroom will be boxed up and she will be able to return to the paper’s building in order to pick them up.”

Also on Twitter, Grimes delved into the numerous times she experienced sexism in the workplace, tweeting that the publication “has had a pretty bad sexism problem” and that the “Adelson-installed” higher-ups made her extremely uncomfortable with “their sexist, racist, awful jokes.

As news of these suspicious editorial practices emerged, The New York Times reported that Adelson met privately with Donald Trump in early May and said “that he was willing to contribute more to help elect him than he has to any previous campaign, a sum that could exceed $100 million.” As Fortune wrote back in December, the Las Vegas Review-Journal is “Nevada’s largest daily newspaper with a circulation in excess of 175,000.” The Nevada caucus was held on Feb. 23, and Trump won with 45.9 percent of the vote.

As the general election looms, independent political reporting remains a crucial aspect of a fair democratic system. As Grimes has explained over the course of many months, the Review-Journal is becoming exceedingly influenced by interested third parties—and the reporting team isn’t always to blame. At the end of her post, she writes:

I believe in the power of journalism and I believe in the great reporters in the RJ newsroom—including on my own team. But as much as I love the idea of the Review-Journal, my trust in the company as an institution has died a slow death over the past five months. Its management has failed on too many occasions to live up to the standards we so rigidly hold others to on a regular basis.

You can read Grimes’ entire piece on Medium here.

For her continued transparency in the face of questionable journalistic ethics, Stephanie Grimes is our Truthdigger of the Week.

Go to Truthdigger of the Week

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