Why I held the D4 story

By Rachel Pritchett, rpritchett@kitsapsun.com, 360-475-3783

I hadn’t even gotten my coat off in the newsroom the morning of Monday, Jan. 23, when Publisher Charles Horton, rushing past my desk bound for somewhere else, hollered, “Did you hear about D4? Someone said they closed.”

Whoa.

Despite my story last week that two federal contractors with a local presence had gotten big federal contracts, I knew the climate was rough in the contractor community.

They’re feeling the federal cuts in a big way, and, as one contractor told me, the need for engineers isn’t so critical anymore since so many have lot their jobs.

I’d watched Dimension 4, which makes electronic operational manuals, for years.

Its office once was across the alley from the Sun, and there always seemed like there were lots of workers taking smoke breaks and occupying parking spaces in a lot next to the Sun where I wished I could park.

And then there was D4’s ambitious 2004 interior retrofitting of the old Medical Dental Building at Fifth Street and Pacific Avenue, where it consolidated all its operations.

“They must be doing OK,” I thought at the time. And they were.

I went up to D4 after that blast from Horton, and saw it was indeed closed. I called all the numbers at D4 repeatedly. No answer. I called all the other contractors until someone told me who the head person was at D4. I called and left a message for Kent McManus. I put a call-out on my blog for workers to contact me.

Bryan Yager did. We talked extensively. Within a few hours, I had enough from Yager and what I’d seen that I had the story.

McManus returned my call. He was at Sea-Tac about to get on a plane. He was jetting across country for talks with a bigger company with a global reach that was similar to D4. Acquisition or something related to that was the topic.

McManus asked me to hold the story. Publication could kill the deal, he argued.

That was a hard thing to ask of me.

As a reporter, I’m charged with getting the news out there in a timely way, accurately, and for the greater good of the public.

It was an intense conversation. I had the story, after all.

But I knew what I had to do. Through some tense give-and-take, I agreed with McManus to wait until the talks concluded. He agreed to an interview. The talks didn’t have the outcome McManus wanted. I interviewed him this past Monday, a week after I first heard, and the story ran within hours.

Why did I agree to hold the story for a week?

At the time, with the knowledge I had, I believed there to be about 50 people’s jobs on the line. Had an acquisition been successful, there was a chance D4 could have reopened and those jobs saved.

If I had went with the story based on the Yager interview, there was a possibility that I would have become a player at the table McManus was at with the potential buyer. The story potentially could impact the deal. And there was a possibility that there would be more D4 ex-workers like Yager eyeing the local the food bank.

So I paid the price and waited until this past Monday.

It hurt when an editor told me as I was writing Monday that the D4 closure wasn’t breaking news anymore.

Was the public served? I believe, eventually, yes. But there was a price in waiting. The public should have known sooner. Did I do the right thing? I believe so. People’s livelihoods were at stake, and that trumped it.

I’m telling you this because I want to illustrate why we do what we do as business journalists. It’s not too hard for an article published during pending negotiations to skew an outcome. It’s dangerous territory.

But it’s a case-by-case situation.

I remember when Harrison Medical Center was shopping around for some leased space on Wheaton Way to put some of its administrative offices. One of the sites was the old Kmart store. I wrote about that as negotiations were pending, and suddenly the asking price went up mightily and made negotiations much tougher, a Harrison leader at the time later told me.

I probably would have done that one just as I did it, however. It was different; Harrison had been shopping multiple sites for a long time. And the commercial vacancy situation along Wheaton is so dismal I doubt that anyone could raise lease rates too much. No people’s livelihoods were at stake.

So there you have it. Weighing what’s right and wrong, with you the reader who deserves to know always on my mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Please enter the word MILK here: