KUT removes freelancer’s coverage of its newsroom from website

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Austin NPR station KUT has removed a freelance reporter’s coverage of its internal newsroom issues from its website, reviving concerns among staff about outside influence on news coverage.

On the web pages where the stories were first published, the news content has been replaced with the notice, “After further review, KUT has removed this story.” The words “Story” and “Has Been Removed” were also added around each headline.

UPDATE: After this story was published, KUT updated the notice on its freelancer’s stories: “Following the publication of the article previously on this page, it was subsequently reviewed by outside legal counsel. Fairness and accuracy are core to our guiding principles, and to that end, we have removed this story pending further review.”

“As you are likely aware, sometimes as part of the journalistic process, news stories are removed for a number of reasons — including to undergo additional reviews,” KUT spokesperson Erin Geisler said in response to Current’s request for comment.

In an impromptu meeting Thursday of staff from the newsroom and Texas Standard, KUT Managing Editor Matt Largey said attorneys advised KUT to remove the stories, according to three staffers who attended the meeting. He said he could not discuss details, and he did not specify whom the attorneys represented.

Largey said he did not make the decision to remove the articles, according to the three attendees.

KUT News assigned reporter Eva Ruth Moravec and a freelance editor to develop coverage about its internal problems as Current pursued a story on efforts to address long-standing workplace-climate issues within the newsroom.

After Current published its account, Moravec delivered two stories for KUT. The first, archived here, summarized Current’s initial report and included a response from staff. The second, archived here, reported on the abrupt resignation of KUT’s interim general manager on Sept. 24. It also described a pending HR investigation of Texas Standard host David Brown for inappropriate comments. (Texas Standardwhich also reported on the HR investigation, has not withdrawn the coverage from its website.)

A third story from Moravec was said to be forthcoming, according to two of Moravec’s sources and several KUT staffers. Moravec did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

Two staffers told Current that Moravec’s published stories were removed from KUT’s website on Tuesday. Few people noticed until Thursday morning, when a listener tweeted about the missing stories. The tweet created a stir among the journalists, according to three KUT staffers.

Largey called a meeting in response to the commotion, and about 20 staff from KUT News and Texas Standard gathered in a nearby conference room, according to three who attended. Speaking to Current on background because of fear of retribution, the staffers said they were confused by the decision and the lack of explanation.

This wasn’t the first time that Moravec’s reporting had been put in limbo. Patti Smith, the interim GM who resigned in September, had previously attempted to end Moravec’s reporting. Twelve KUT News staffers challenged her decision by signing a letter that raised “serious concerns” about the precedent she set by interfering in editorial matters.

While journalists described Smith’s intervention as an attempt to end the reporting, KUT spokesperson Geisler said Smith wanted to ensure that the coverage would be “sufficiently independent.”

Two KUT staffers told Current they were considering a similar action in response to the latest interference.

KUT maintains high journalistic standards for its coverage of other organizations and of itself. “We strive for the truth,” said Joy Diaz, a senior producer with Texas Standard. “We strive for the highest journalistic standards, and after meeting those standards, we removed two stories? Not because they had mistakes. Not because they were factually incorrect. Like, why? And right now, nobody can give us an answer.”

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