Judges in journalism contest were not told

Matt Fountain

McClatchy gives first-place award for poor second

By Cal Coast Times Staff

In an editorial about the importance of a free press, the New York Times noted the need for journalists to hold government accountable, mentioning an article about the brutal jailhouse death of Andrew Holland.

The article, written by Matt Fountain on March 16, 2018, a reporter at the McClatchy owned San Luis Obispo Tribune, was about a man who died after jail guards left him strapped in a chair for more than 46 hours. A month later, McClatchy presented Fountain with its Presidents Award for Journalism Excellence for excelling in the watchdog function of the media.

“A team at The (San Luis Obispo) Tribune, another McClatchy newsroom, led by reporter Matt Fountain, discovered something else. Mr. Holland had been strapped to a restraint chair, naked, for nearly two days,” according to a McClatchy article on the award. “Think about that. Two days. Their reporting – and only because they were reporting – led to the county changing the way it treats the mentally ill.”

But it was CalCoastNews reporters who were the first to investigate and expose issues of mistreatment of mentally ill inmates at the county jail. Following Andrew Holland’s death, CalCoastNews reporters informed Holland’s family that their son had died after being strapped in a restraint chair and not from hitting his head against a cell wall as reported by the Tribune at the time.

In a series of articles in early 2017, CalCoastNews detailed issues at the jail, Holland’s death in the chair and a pattern of lies by law enforcement.

In July 2017, eight months before the Tribune story was published, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors agreed to make multiple changes at the jail and to pay Holland’s family a $5 million settlement. Still, McClatchy and the Tribune credited Fountain’s reporting with causing the changes.

After the New York Times offered the Tribune’s article on Holland as a reason to support a free press, Cal Coast editor Bill Loving informed McClatchy that the reporter had duplicated reporting CalCoastNews had published months earlier.

Lauren Gustus, McClatchy’s west region editor, then acknowledged that CalCoastNews reporters had first reported on the facts regarding Holland’s death, McClatchy then updated its reporting to acknowledge the truth. McClatchy did not acknowledge, however, that the judges were not told that the Tribune’s stories came months after CalCoastNews broke the story and brought about the changes.

The judges apparently were not given a chance to change their minds about the award to the Tribune.

The New York Times editorial about the importance of a free press, acknowledges that reporters are human, they do make mistakes, and “correcting them is core to our job.”

The New York Times editorial department has not responded to multiple requests to correct the factual inaccuracies in its editorial.

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