The Chicago Defender, a weekly African-American newspaper in Chicago, fired its managing editor, Mary L. Datcher, because of her work with a local political candidate, Dilara Sayeed. Sayeed is running for an Illinois state house seat.
The Defender defended the firing of Datcher by saying she broke company policy. The story was broken by another weekly local African-American newspaper, the Crusader, according to the Chicago Tribune.
However, Datcher told iMediaEthics that her bosses at the Defender were aware of her work outside of the paper, and that there was no policy she knew of until she was fired.
“There were no company policies and procedures presented to me saying that I could not have an outside company,” she said in a phone call with iMediaEthics. “They knew openly that I had this company.” She added that she never had any agreement with the paper to say who her outside firm worked with, and “they never asked.”
According to Datcher, “I was very transparent when I came on board about my company, what I did, the kind of work I did do, and they were accepting of that” as a supplement to her income from the Defender.
Now, she is exploring a potential lawsuit over the way she was fired, she said.
- Nov. 22, Sayeed’s campaign pays Datcher $10,000
- Nov. 23, Defender publishes a profile on Sayeed
The following statement by the Defender‘s editor Frances Jackson was published by the Crusader:
“After a few days of due diligence, our investigation found that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of The Chicago Defender, however, we determined that it was necessary to take action and terminate the employee for violation of company policy and procedures.”
Datcher denied the article was pay-for-play, telling the Tribune that a freelancer, Lee Edwards, wrote the article without any interference from her. Edwards confirmed this, telling iMediaEthics by e-mail, “Datcher gave me no instructions regarding the story.” We asked Edwards if he noticed any significant changes between the draft he submitted and the published story, and he said, “No, there was not any changes made that I saw.”
Instead, Datcher told iMediaEthics that Sayeed paid her for “field marketing,” and that because of her outside connection with Sayeed’s campaign, when it came time for an article on Sayeed in the Defender she then turned the assignment over to Edwards to avoid any conflict. “I don’t have anything to do with how the writer writes,” she explained. “I don’t have any input on that. I make sure they connect on that, and I step away.”
Further, Datcher noted that the allegations that Sayeed was paying for an article in the newspaper don’t add up because a full-page ad in the Defender costs $5,000, and the article on Sayeed was only half a page.
In a statement to iMediaEthics provided by the Cratic Shaffer consulting firm, Sayeed said the payment was made to Datcher’s firm On the Street. “Mary revealed she worked for the Defender, and we confirmed there would be no overlap between roles,” the statement reads. “As a woman-of-color who owns her own business, I wanted to hire another woman-of-color and to pay her a fair contract price – this is the right thing to do, but not often what happens in business.” Sayeed added that she has “not paid for media interviews,” and noted that the Defender published articles on all the candidates in her race.
“Mary, herself, wrote two articles on my opponents,” the statement from Sayeed continues. “Clearly I did not have any influence on her role at the Defender to prevent or encourage an article being written.”
Further, Sayeed claimed the issue was a “non-story promoted by our opponents, and because of a rivalry between the Crusader and the Defender.” The Crusader quoted its publisher Dorothy R. Leavell calling for Sayeed to “withdraw from the race.” Sayeed said in her statement to iMediaEthics she would not be withdrawing.