Was Washington Times reporter sacked for speaking out?

The Washington Post/June 2, 2010

About a month ago, Julia Duin, a reporter for 14 years at the Unification Church-backed Washington Times, did something that journalists admire and many employers abhor. She spoke out about her employer, in print, on the record. In my article on the potential sale of the Times, Duin's remarks -- about the Times feeling like a "rudderless ship" and about the snake that turned up in the Times newsroom -- stood out for their honesty and wit.

Duin, 54, said she was dismissed Tuesday, a decision that she believes came in retaliation for her published comments about the paper. To make matters even more difficult, Duin was given the news while her five-year-old daughter Olivia was visiting the newsroom. On top of that, Duin had to pack up her office belongings while on crutches, the result of a recent foot injury.

Don Meyer, a spokesman for the Times, did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Here's what Duin said in my story:

"The feeling everyone feels is that it's a totally rudderless ship. Nobody knows who's running it. Is it the board of directors? We don't know. There was a three-foot-long black snake in the main conference room the other day. We have snakes in the newsroom -- the real live variety, at least. One of the security people gallantly removed it."

Duin, who in April won the first place religion reporting award in the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association's annual contest, said Times editor Sam Dealey told her Tuesday that religion coverage had no future at the paper and that she was being laid off. "But one of the things I said back was, 'Isn't this payback, Sam, for The Washington Post article?' He denied it. He said, 'We're doing some cost-cutting.'"

Duin says she never intended to speak ill of the employer she has been loyal to for so many years: "I don't want people to think I was against my employer. All I wanted to do was tell the truth. Why is that such a hard thing among journalists?"

Duin's departure comes as Times executives are considering selling the financially strapped newspaper, which was created in 1982 as a politically conservative organ by the founder of the Unification Church, Rev. Sun Myung Moon. According to current and former Times executives, one group of investors has offered about $15 million; under the terms of the offer, the paper's current ownership -- led by Preston Moon -- would be required to pay off investors would also assume the paper's debt, which is believed to be more than $6 million. The sources said they did not know or could not reveal the identities of the investors. The paper's former editor, John Solomon, who had been trying to buy the newspaper, is no longer a serious contender, the sources said.

But the current and former Times officials also said that Nicholas Chiaia, a member of the paper's two-man board of directors and president of the church-supported United Press International wire service, is not eager to accept the $15 million offer. The sources said Chiaia would prefer to slim down or eliminate the Times' print edition, converting the newspaper to a web-only news service.

As for Duin, she predicted her fate well before her bosses let her go. In a May 8 email to me, she wrote:

"Apparently I nearly got fired Monday morning for talking with you and I was spared only because they want to let a few weeks go by before they do me in...Apparently what I said about the snakes caused the asking price to drop several million...The imminent end of my 14-year stint at TWT would be bearable were there a decent job waiting for me out there, but they're not lining up to hire religion writers these days. Plus I'm a single mom with no convenient husband as back-up."

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