We learned today that a man, instrumental to exposing Conflicts of Interest in Virginia Beach, is no longer reporting for the Virginia Pilot. H/t Blue Virginia (credit where credit is due).
Coy Barefoot, a reporter and professor based out of Charlottesville had the following to publicly say on his Facebook page:
meanwhile, the Mayor of Virginia Beach is finally facing charges for his voting favorably on development projects and other deals that benefited clients of a specific bank where he happened to serve as President. (which is illegal, by the way). The bombshell was broken by investigative reporter John Holland last fall in the pages of the Virginian Pilot (I’ll put a link on the jump). What was the result of the reporting? A full year later, Sessoms faces only five misdemeanor charges— and has hired no less than FOUR top lawyers to defend him). EVEN IF convicted of illegally mishandling the power and responsibility of his office, he will not have to resign. And the Columbia Journalism Review reported earlier this year (http://bit.ly/1OzngAd) what happened at the Virginian Pilot newspaper as a result of their breaking this story: upper management cracked down and discouraged any investigative reporting that might embarrass the powers that be in Virginia Beach. “As one veteran journalist at the paper put it: “We’re walking around with duct tape over our keyboards.” None of this comes as any kind of surprise to those of us who’ve been closely following the stories of Virginia Beach over the years. Oh, and that Virginian Pilot reporter who broke the story about the Mayor? This week his byline at the paper’s website reads “Former Pilot Reporter.” (emphasis added)
The culture at the Virginia Pilot per Columbia Journalism Review
Back in January the Columbia Journalism Review took an inside look at the workings of the Virginia Pilot and had the following to say after John Holland broke the story showing the Conflicts of Interest between Mayor William Sessoms, TownBank, and Virginia Beach.
Meetings to stifle the story:
A few weeks after the big story, Landmark’s executive vice president and general counsel, Rusty Friddell, began meeting with Holland and the editors who were involved in producing the story…The meetings weren’t to give kudos on the coverage. Instead, according to newsroom sources, Friddell questioned the journalists about their initial story and asked them to justify why it was solid, important work. Widespread knowledge in the newsroom of the sometimes contentious, hours-long meetings, and concern that an unheard-of level of corporate pressure could be influencing the Pilot’s coverage, have created a fraught environment for reporters and editors…what was once on track to be a full-fledged investigative series on the local business and political elite is stalled, and perhaps dead in the water. (emphasis added).
Morale of Virginia Pilot journalists:
“Lovers of journalism in this newsroom are pissed. It’s bad,” said one member of the Pilot staff. “I want for journalism to prevail. I want for all manner of any possible wrongdoing to be revealed. That’s what I want in life. That’s why I became a journalist.”
Ties between Sessoms’ counsel and counsel for the Pilot:
Several journalists specifically mentioned Friddell, an executive who travels in some of the same social and professional circles as the officials the paper has scrutinized. Friddell, the son of one of Virginia’s most renowned columnists—he says the journalism gene skipped a generation—sits on the board of a local charity with four TowneBank directors.
Friddell is also the former law partner of William Harrison, a private attorney the mayor has hired as part of his legal defense team. The mayor and his legal team have not approached the Pilot’s editors with objections about the coverage. Harrison, however, has discussed the matter with his former partner, Friddell.
And the most damning commentary:
As one veteran journalist at the paper put it: “We’re walking around with duct tape over our keyboards.” (emphasis added)
John Holland moves on
We as members of the public do not know what happened to John Holland, the man who did the initial nose to the grindstone investigative journalism. As indicated on the Virginia Pilot website:
What is not clear is if he was let go, left due to the culture at the paper, or left for other reasons. I will confirm that he appears to be alive.
In the mean time I have a message for Mayor Sessoms and TowneBank, and an admonishment to the Virginia Pilot:
There is no duct tape on this keyboard.