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West Valley mayor admits writing articles using false name

Published November 11, 2011 7:49 pm

Mike Winder • He says he did it to add balance to news coverage of his city.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder has admitted writing articles about his own city for the Deseret News and other media outlets under a pen name without the paper's knowledge.

Winder said that four articles he submitted earlier this year under the name Richard Burwash were published in either the Deseret News or on KSL.com. The mayor said he was frustrated that the newspaper had drastically reduced its city government coverage after layoffs last year but not its crime coverage and wanted to "try to restore balance."

"I care deeply about having news stories about my community beyond what the crime desk churns out, since there is a negative reputation we are working hard to turn around," Winder told The Salt Lake Tribune. "In a three-month period, 16 percent of Salt Lake Tribune stories that mentioned West Valley City were about crime, but 56 percent of Deseret News stories about my city were about crime."

The articles were submitted through Deseret Connect, a venue for freelance writers to contribute to the Deseret News, KSL, Mormon Times and LDS Church News. Winder set up a Deseret Connect account under the Burwash name — the same name he used on articles he wrote that were published in the Oquirrh Times, a newspaper serving West Valley City, Magna and Kearns.

Winder said the Oquirrh Times editor knew he was the author of the articles. He decided to do the same with the Deseret News — but did not inform the editors that he was the writer — after he attended an event last year where Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News, talked about Deseret Connect, Winder said. When he asked Gilbert when his paper was going to resume covering the city, the editor said the News didn't have the resources and that someone who attends city events and likes to write could contribute articles, according to Winder.

The articles published in the News under the Burwash name were about a new Buddhist temple in West Valley City; an update on the TRAX construction; and the Taylorsville city budget. The budget story was written by his sister, Aimee Newton, Winder said.

A fourth article, about a former UTOPIA contractor accused of extortion, was published by KSL.com.

"All of the articles submitted by Richard Burwash were 100 percent truthful, accurate, and verifiable," Winder said.

He defended using a pen name, citing famous authors who wrote under pseudonyms, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

Winder said he decided to drop the pen name in the spring after Mark Willes, CEO and president of Deseret Management Corp., told him that Deseret Connect preferred that its writers not use pen names.

"That's when Richard Burwash disappeared and I created a Deseret Connect account for 'Mike Winder,' " the mayor said. He wrote opinion pieces under his own name.

Meanwhile, he told Deseret Connect officials that Burwash had moved to London.

Winder said he voluntarily informed the News on Monday about the pen name because "I do believe in transparency and openness."

"I thought it was probably well that this come out," Winder said.

He added that, with 2,000 contributors, there are probably "some holes" in the Deseret Connect system.

"Ironically, there will be those that criticize these actions using a pen name themselves or screen names on comment boards," Winder said.