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Why did three sites pass on a story about an Amazon exec before it landed at The Information?

Depends who you ask.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Last spring, veteran journalist Kim Masters wrote a story for The Hollywood Reporter about Roy Price, who heads up Amazon’s Hollywood efforts. It reported that Price was accused of making sexual remarks to a producer who works on a high-profile Amazon show.

But Masters’ story never ran in the Reporter, where she has been an editor-at-large for the past seven years. It also didn’t run in other publications that looked at the piece after the Reporter passed on it, including BuzzFeed and The Daily Beast.

Eventually, a version of the story ran last month in The Information, a subscription-based site that covers the technology business.

Why did multiple outlets pass on the Price story? Masters says she won’t discuss internal deliberations at The Hollywood Reporter. As for other publications that looked at the story? “No one said they thought the story wasn't newsworthy or expressed doubt about the accuracy of the reporting,” she said.

Masters thinks one reason earlier versions of her story didn’t run could be that publishers were wary of an anti-media sentiment that has accompanied Donald Trump’s election. And another could be the example of Gawker Media, the blog network that declared bankruptcy last year after losing a lawsuit to wrestler Hulk Hogan and Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel.

There is a connection between Masters’ story and the Hogan case: Both Hogan and Price employed attorney Charles Harder, who specializes in representing Hollywood celebrities and other media industry figures.

The story The Information published has a few key elements: It says Price was accused of making “unwanted sexual remarks” to Isa Hackett, a producer of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” series; it says Amazon hired an outside investigator to look into the charges, and it has an on-the-record quote from Hackett about the allegation.

The story doesn’t say what happened after the claim was investigated in 2015. Price has significant clout in Hollywood, given Amazon’s interest and ability to buy and fund TV shows and movies.

Recode has asked Price, his attorneys and Amazon for comment.

Recode hasn’t seen earlier versions of the story Masters pitched to previous publications, but both Masters and The Information CEO Jessica Lessin say the version The Information published was considerably shorter and more narrowly focused.

“The story we ended up running is very different than the versions [Masters] had been working on,” Lessin told Recode. She said the version The Information published was “based on our standards, and what we think is newsworthy, and is important, and is publishable.”

In a Facebook note published this month, Lessin, referencing the Masters story, wrote that “we recently published a version of a story that three other publications passed on after very high-priced lawyers promised to sue them. We started from scratch with the reporter, looked at the facts that we could defend as true and published the piece to a very strong reaction. We also spent a very substantial amount of money vetting the story with our lawyers, and it was entirely worth it.”

But BuzzFeed News editor Shani Hilton says Price’s legal team, which also included Lisa Bloom, a high-profile attorney known for representing women who have filed sexual harassment charges, didn’t have any impact on her publication’s decision not to run Masters’ story:

“We saw a much longer, early version of Kim's story, but decided not to move forward after reviewing it internally. We didn't speak with anyone from Price's legal team. We’re glad that Kim's story found a home at The Information — it turned out great,” Hilton wrote in an email. “Given how many publications passed on the R. Kelly bombshell published by BuzzFeed News this summer, we doubt that anyone would accuse us of shying from critical stories about rich and powerful subjects.”

Matthew Belloni, Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director, also says his publication passed for reasons unrelated to Amazon or Price. “We don’t discuss our internal editorial process but any suggestion that a story on this topic didn’t run because of outside pressure would be false,” he wrote in an email.

Masters says that one distinction between the version of the story that ran in The Information and in earlier iterations is that she was able to get a specific comment about the allegation from Hackett. Up until then, she said, “the sources that were key, all in one way or another, had their livelihoods tied up with Amazon. I would like people to be on the record, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for someone to say, ‘I’m willing to commit professional suicide’.”

Noah Shachtman, executive editor for The Daily Beast, said that the issue of on-the-record sourcing was what kept his his publication from running Masters’ story. “We worked with Kim Masters on her story about the troubling allegations against Roy Price at Amazon Studios,” he wrote in an email. “But we felt we needed an on-the-record source before we could publish the piece and Isa Hackett was unwilling at that time to go on the record."

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