I got a little chuckle this week when Roddy Boyd and his paid hobby, Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, put out a plea for donations and referred to their “work” as corporate accountability reporting.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Roddy Boyd’s lack of ethics as it relates to a large donation from investor Marc Cohodes that influenced Roddy’s reporting.
Roddy fancies himself an investigative reporter. He has done some good work in the past (10 years ago), but nothing particularly notable. He hasn’t won any journalism awards of any great importance, which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s also a signal about his work. The closest he came to an award was Huffington Post calling him a “dangerous” person in financial media in 2012. (Funny enough, the article mentions Overstock.com, precisely the company that got Roddy into the ethical dilemma I have been writing about.)
It’s no secret that I have a problem with SIRF being a non-profit. Donations to SIRF are tax deductible, and yet the organization isn’t charitable in any way. It’s simply a way for Roddy to make a living since he chooses not pursue a traditional journalist job. I don’t have any problem with someone creating a job for themselves, but I do have a problem with people getting tax deductions when they give him money. Deductions for charitable contributions should be reserved for money given to actual charities.
In fairness, Roddy does masquerade as someone doing things for the public good. His SIRF website has a tagline of “In-depth financial investigative reporting for the common good.” I wrote last month:
And yet there is no “common good” to the work Roddy is doing. He says “investigative journalism is a critical tool for ensuring corporate accountability.” In theory that’s true. In reality, Roddy’s work doesn’t scare any companies into being accountable.
Who benefits from Roddy’s work? Certainly not the public at large. I’m sure he’d make a argument that work like his helps keep companies honest. But the truth is that almost no one cares about the companies he is writing about and no company is afraid that Roddy might expose them.
Boyd sets forth a lie that no one benefits from his work:
We are funded solely through the tax-deductible contributions of individual donors and foundations, none of whom derive any professional or economic benefit from this support.
Untrue. Short sellers who bet on the companies Boyd writes about benefit, and it is his hope that they will donate to him as a “thank you” and to ensure that he will continue to write about companies they bet on.
A recent comment on one of my articles on this site:
Naturally, I don’t have any way to verify the information here, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard rumors to this effect. I have heard from a couple of parties that Carson Block (of Muddy Waters Research) had an interest in targeting Fraser Perring, but wanted others to do the dirty work for him.
Let’s go back to the charade of corporate accountability at SIRF. I would argue that the first step to accountability journalism is independence. I think that for a long time, Roddy appeared to do a good job at this. But then he had financial troubles and needed to pay his mortgage. In steps Marc Cohodes with $328,750, and how could Roddy say no?
But once he took that donation and thereby agreed to not write about Overstock.com, his independence was compromised. He made it worse by buddying up with Cohodes and sidekick Frasier Perring for some “reporting.” And then denouncing Perring after Cohodes and Perring had a falling out. The timing of these things looks bad and doesn’t look coincidental, no matter what Boyd now claims.
Roddy thinks of himself as a hard-hitting corporate accountability reporter. In 2019, he published articles on 6 dates. In 2018, he published articles on 5 dates. In 2017, he published articles on 5 dates. In 2016 he published articles on 12 dates. That’s hardly ambitious.
What’s more, Roddy writes the stuff and calls himself the “editor.” It’s a one-man shop that puts out a story every two or three months. And for that Roddy is paid $180,000 per year plus $15,600 in benefits.
Why don’t we take a look at salaries for employees of organizations that really do accountability journalism so we can see if Roddy earns his keep. (Thanks to Gary Weiss for pointing me in the direction of these organizations and their salaries.)
- City Limits News does accountability reporting for New York City. They do pretty extensive independent reporting. They report salaries of $81,031 for the executive editor and $96,119 for the executive director. In total, they report $329,508 in salaries and they’ve got at least 9 employees.
- The Center for Investigative Reporting has been around for a long time, doing a whole bunch of independent investigative journalism. They have a ton of staff. Their top people earn: CEO $255,000, Editor-in-Chief $220,024, Chief Development Officer $195,000, Executive Producer $183,333, Radio Show Host $175,000, Managing Editor $168,663.
- The Center for Public Integrity is another longstanding organization that does independent investigative reporting. They’ve got at least 28 staff people, and their managing editor makes $166,851, while their Executive Editor makes $175,807.
- The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (Wisconsin Watch) reports on issues in Wisconsin, and turns out It has eight employees and a handful of interns, and it puts out weekly material in addition to long-term reporting projects. It pays its Executive director $89,872 and pays the rest of its employee $235,285.
- Chalkbeat Inc. is a non-profit news organization that reports on education issues, reporting multiple times a day. It pays its Editor in Chief $167,379, Chief Operating Officer $170,117, Managing Editor $101,797
These comps tell me that Roddy is overpaid. Sure, Roddy can pay himself whatever he wants. But $180,000+ for a guy who throws out an article here and there about largely obscure companies that almost no one cares about is certainly not the going rate for real journalists, working for real independent journalism organizations, turning out a respectable amount of reporting. (It gets even worse of you believe that Roddy’s reporting is influenced by his donors and you suspect that he tips off investors in advance of publishing.)
It’s the season of giving. Please give to real charities, not the “investigative reporting” hobby that Roddy parades about as an important tool to keep the public informed.