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All the (Local) News that’s Fit to Print (Elsewhere)

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The biggest news story in Griffin, Georgia, in the last year was barely covered here. But it made the New York Times. And the fact that it wasn’t says a lot about how white collar matters are treated differently than the kinds of cases I typically handle. It also is indicative of how if you are going to be charged with violating the law, it’s best to be professional, prominent in the community and (dare I say) white. If you’re black, relatively poor, charged with a street crime, and you’re not a member of Rotary or Kiwanis, you’ll likely make the front page here. But the folks in New York won’t be interested.

In case you live in Georgia, and you don’t regularly look to the New York Times for local news coverage, let me bring you up to date. A local accountant, Thomas D. Melvin, Jr. was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged Insider Trading. That’s right, two out of three named partners in a local accounting firm, along with 6 other citizens of Griffin, Georgia, were sued after Mr. Melvin purportedly learned from a client that Sanofi-Aventis was planning to buy Chattem, a publicly-traded pharmaceutical-products company. According to the far-from-local New York Times, Mr. Melvin learned of the impending merger from the director of Chattem, a client of his. The client went to him for confidential tax advice related to the deal.

He then, according to the not-so-local paper, tipped the news off to his buddies. Those buddies, I learned from a New York publication yesterday, were C .Roan Berry, Michael S. Cain (a stockbroker), Joel C. Jinks, and Mr. Melvin’s partner R. Jeffrey Rooks. Mr. Cain then told Peter C. Doffing.

All eight then allegedly purchased share and call options in the weeks leading up to Sanofi-Aventis’s tender offer for Chattem. And the Griffin 8 made a total of $550,000 on the trades, according to the SEC’s Complaint.

Half of the Griffin 8, Berry, Coots, Jackson, and Rooks agreed to settle the civil charges and return the profits. Litigation will continue against the other 4.

The New York Times covered it. The Chicago Tribune covered it. The Wall Street Journal covered it. You can read about it on Nasdaq’s website. Business Week covered it.

But if you look locally, you’ll find it barely above the fold in the print edition of the Griffin Daily News. Today’s lead story is about property assessment appeals. And the lead story on the paper’s website right now is a riveting account of a fight between a Mr. Leon Jenkins and a Zachary Mathis, over some beer. The headline in the lead story is “Two arrested after fight over beer.” The story that made the New York Times has been relegated pretty far down on the Griffin Daily News’s website.

And the full article on the insider trading story isn’t even fully available on the local paper’s website. But if you read the print edition of the story, compiled by “Staff Reports,” you’ll see a recast version of the NY Times story.

I see no signs of any attempts to actually do journalism from the local paper. Guys, the accounting firm is right down the street. You don’t even have to make a long distance call to attempt an interview. And if you do, you’ll either get a statement or a nice juicy, “couldn’t be reached,” or “declined to be interviewed.” When local papers cover my non-prominent clients, that’s what happens to them.

So, now let’s cast the net a little wider. What about the Pike County News Observer, a few miles up the road? Nada. Seriously, they didn’t cover it at all. However, that paper did cover one financial story. A local woman who prepares tax returns was jailed. And she’s from Spalding County, just like the Griffin 8. Poor Ms. Lisa Marie McKneely should have gone to work at Melvin, Rooks & Howell. Maybe then Walter Geiger of the Pike County Journal-Reporter wouldn’t have covered her charges or put a big picture of her mugshot in the paper. But, alas, she is an independent tax preparer, and she’s relatively poor, and the Zebulon paper is on it.

So, let’s check in with Atlanta. The AJC covered it. But maybe because the AJC is a big ole city slicker paper, and maybe because it’s geographically closer to New York than these friendly local papers are.

If you don’t like your cases getting featured prominently in the local paper, it’s good to represent one of the Griffin 8. If you’re the public defender around here, you better learn how to be high profile — particularly if your clients fight over beer.