WUNC-FM reporter Laura Leslie in Chapel Hill, N.C., continues to doggedly pursue the perpetually breaking news story on UNC-TV’s Alcoa coverage controversy (Current, July 26). The Raleigh station was widely criticized for turning over reporter Eszter Vajda’s notes and unbroadcast footage from her story on Alcoa’s bid to re-license four dams. Leslie reveals that internal UNC-TV e-mails show that station management did not want to comply with the lawmakers’ request. “They fully intended to fight it on journalistic grounds,” she writes in her station blog. “But they got no backing on that from UNC President [Erskine] Bowles, from board members, or from the AG’s office, where they sought legal expertise.” Also, Vajda’s producing partner Martin Sansone told WFAE in Charlotte that he took $3,000 from an Alcoa opponent for airfare to fly from his home in Britain to assist Vajda. Sansone needed that, he said, to book several flights to avoid airborne debris from the Icelandic volcano eruption. “That would be a great story if it were true,” Leslie writes. “But it isn’t. According to the UNC-TV e-mails, Sansone and Morgan negotiated the payment on April 7th – a full week before April 14th, when the volcano actually erupted.”
UPDATE: The News & Observer newspaper is reporting that Vajda “is no longer employed at UNC-TV” as of 5 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 17). Gail Zimmermann, associate general manager of the station, verified that but added that she cannot discuss personnel matters.