Nonprofit newsroom dissolves over allegations directed at founder

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FairWarning, a small investigative news nonprofit based in California, dissolved Saturday after a Twitter thread about the founder’s comments during a job interview touched off a crisis at the organization.

Founded in 2009 in Pasadena, FairWarning published articles in 189 news outlets, including Mother Jones, 100Reporters and the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Its investigative reporting largely focused on government and business accountability.

“Circumstances beyond the board’s control have unfairly damaged FairWarning’s reputation and made it difficult to carry on a small-budget news organization dependent on charitable donations,” FairWarning’s board wrote in a farewell letter. A representative of the board declined further comment to Current.

Over 90% of FairWarning’s funding came from donor contributions each year. In 2018, the organization’s total revenue was $350,583, 99% of which was donated.

The decision to dissolve came two weeks after freelance journalist Matt Krupnick shared on Twitter comments that FairWarning founder and Executive Director Myron Levin made to him during a job interview. In his tweets, Krupnick did not identify Levin or FairWarning by name because he said he wanted to protect the organization’s two staff reporters. He identified FairWarning as “a small California investigative journalism nonprofit I respect.”

Krupnick told Current that Levin made the comments Jan. 29 during Krupnick’s third and final interview for an editor position at the organization. Krupnick said he raised concerns about FairWarning’s all-white board, contributing writers and three-person staff. When Krupnick suggested diversifying the organization’s freelancers, he said, Levin responded with, “We’re not ‘woke.’” 

“The editor went on to explain why he was reluctant to bring in diverse journalists,” Krupnick tweeted. “‘I don’t want them writing about racial justice and stuff like that. That’s not what we do here.’”

“Aside from those massive red flags, this editor had no answer when I asked how he measured success (‘That’s impossible to do in journalism,’ he said) and he told me he wasn’t interested in my ideas on strengthening the reporting and reputation. (‘Stay in your lane.’),” Krupnick added.

Krupnick said that he initially emailed a FairWarning board member about Levin’s statements and didn’t hear back. He then decided to share his experience on Twitter.

“I wanted people to know that this stuff is still going on, because I think people of color see this sort of thing happen all the time. And I think that a lot of people who aren’t in that situation may not realize how blatant it is,” Krupnick told Current. He added that he hoped his tweets would cause the organization to take a look at its lack of diversity.

Though Levin had not been named in Krupnick’s tweets, FairWarning released a statement from Levin on Twitter the next day calling the allegations false and out of context. In his statement, Levin highlighted the organization’s past coverage of communities of color, including stories about employer wage theft and the tobacco industry’s targeting of Black communities

“I never said I was ‘reluctant to bring in diverse journalists,’” Levin wrote. “I never said a journalist of color can’t write about issues a white journalist can. I never told Matt that I wasn’t interested in his ideas about improving the operation.”

“We do not tolerate racism in our newsroom,” Levin added. “We know that we have work to do on diversity. We are very rarely in a position to hire — our budget doesn’t allow it — but when we are, we are interested in talking to candidates from diverse backgrounds.”

In an email to Current, Levin called Krupnick’s claims a “smear” and said that he published a statement because “it very quickly became known” that Krupnick’s tweets were about him and FairWarning. Levin was “getting inquiries,” he said. 

The same day, FairWarning’s two staff writers told the organization’s board that they would resign if Levin didn’t. 

“We are troubled that FairWarning cannot issue a full-throated public denial of Krupnick’s allegations,” the employees wrote in a letter also posted on Twitter. “We are asking Myron Levin to resign. This ask is not personal — it is about addressing a systemic issue with a systemic response.”

In a joint statement posted Tuesday, the staffers expressed surprise and regret about the demise of FairWarning. 

“… After telling us it would commission an independent investigation, the Board abruptly dropped that plan in favor of dissolution,” they wrote. “The result is that now, not only have we lost our jobs, but we have lost the opportunity to carry on FairWarning’s important mission of covering public health and safety, labor, and the environment.” 

In a statement to Current Friday, Krupnick said that he had no reason to lie about the situation and never intended or hoped that FairWarning would shut down as a result of his tweets. 

FairWarning’s board said it plans to work with an unnamed nonprofit to archive the organization’s articles digitally.

10 thoughts on “Nonprofit newsroom dissolves over allegations directed at founder

  1. The story appears to take at face value Matt’s account, when in fact it includes serious inaccuracies and distortions. Just for the record, FairWarning has had journalists of color on our staff, welcomed applications from candidates of diverse backgrounds, and advertised the job Matt didn’t get on job boards of the National Assn. of Black Journalists and the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists.
    Justice for all people–including racial justice–was central to what we did at FairWarning. Our work, available on our website (https://www.fairwarning.org/), demonstrates a tradition of investigative reporting to protect the least powerful in our society.  We urge anyone who has doubts to simply visit our website and make his or her own judgment.  

    • Love it, a non-denial denial: Were the statements made in the meeting or not? If so, what was meant by them?

      And a bit of misdirection to boot: the claim appears to involve statements about freelancers, not staffers.

      This response reads like typical PR/lawyer flack. ‘We at ____ are committed to ______, and would never ______’

      This is exactly why lawyers and PR tools have such terrible reputations, not to mention the news media.

  2. 2/28/21 9:30pm EST Just finished Michael Connelly’s, Fair Warning and was directed to their website (surprised to find out it was real) Only to find out it was shut down 3 days ago. Made me relate to Bill Maher’s show last night, and if Krupnick hasn’t seen it, I suggest he tune in This “woke” culture war has simply gone too far. Krupnick was nothing more than a job applicant. He needs to get over himself. Not everything important is about diversity and people’s feelings, especially his. According to him Levin told him straight up “we’re not woke” Who is he to tell him the board of directors needs to be more “diverse” Again, he was nothing more than a job applicant! It’s not as if he was buying the company. Krupnick doesn’t like the makeup of the board of directors of a company that has been doing a great job since 2009, fine! Go look for a job somewhere else. This one was obviously not for you. BTW, cudos to Micheal Connelly. I’ve been reading his books for many years and this one was one of his best

    • I just finished Fair Warning and checked the website. Im angry and disappointed at its demise. Shows the harm that can ensue when one person can’t take a rejection that mild. I am very pissed. Loved the book.

  3. As David Friedman notes above, In 2020, Michael Connelly wrote a best selling novel, titled “Fair Warning” in which the actual Founder & Managing Editor of @FairWarningNews, Myron Levin, is an important character. The novel, “Fair Warning” is an excellent work of crime fiction and fictionally depicts the Fair Warning investigative news site in solving a serial killing. The novel also has a very interesting treatment of the subject of the privacy of genetic information. According to Deadline, the author is adapting the novel into a screenplay for Compelling Pictures. https://deadline.com/2020/09/michael-connelly-fair-warning-film-adaptation-compelling-pictures-1234577048/ So this effort to somehow take-down a great investigative journalist and a deeply dedicated person came at a very unfortunate time. It would be appropriate for those whose action s led to the closure of a valuable resource to express some remorse, but that isn’t going to happen. Myron Levin is a heroic figure.

  4. “The result is that now, not only have we lost our jobs, but we have lost the opportunity to carry on FairWarning’s important mission of covering public health and safety, labor, and the environment.”
    No; these two reporters/whiners can do what Myron Levin did: Show a little initiative, start a media company and solicit $300K+ in donations to support it. Then they can hire whomever they want, including Krupnick, who apparently saw himself as the white (literally) knight who would save Fair Warning from its racist unwokeness.

  5. There’s no edit button here so I hasten to add another comment: “racist unwokeness” above should be in quotes.

  6. I agree that Krupnick and the staff writers overreacted, to say the least. Ben Smith’s March 29 column in the New York Times, about Harper’s magazine, “Media’s Oddest Workplace,” quotes columnist Thomas Chatterton Williams saying that Harper’s is “simply not woke.” But Harper’s is not dissolving, its staff haven’t walked out, and Smith didn’t attempt to cancel Williams.
    I’m a liberal, I’m not a racist, but I’m sick of the sanctimonious “woke” bs.
    I pitched a story to Levin at the suggestion of Diana Schemo at 100 Reporters, who evidently respected his work, and he was interested in my idea and I emailed him a draft, which he rejected.
    Levin and FairWarning were doing good work. I’m sorry it ended.

  7. Right now many, many people are feeling sensitive, raw, and a little run over. Meeting each others’ standards and mutual understandings are at a low. But not every misunderstanding or missed standard should be a dystopian encounter. Rather than running to Twitter or public media it would better to try talking. In the case of an uneven encounter, for example an interviewee feeling roughed over by an interviewer, accept that you’ve most likely lost the job and try using, in this case, your interviewing skill to ask questions – maybe even while stating that you know you’re unlikely to be hired but that you want to understand. Maybe the other person will cross a line that can’t be generously interpreted (and that would be unequivocally Twitter worthy) or maybe he or she will give you something interesting to mull over.

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