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Mayor of Utah's second-largest city used fake name to write news stories promoting town
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) ' Like his counterparts across the country, Mayor Mike Winder unabashedly promotes his community. But the style is unorthodox: He uses an alias and freelances upbeat articles about West Valley City, Utah.
Winder, mayor of the state's second-largest city, said he took the approach because the media spent too much time on crime coverage.
He unapologetically revealed himself this week, insisting the balance was needed.
"I thought about all the people just reading about crime in our city and nothing better," Winder said Friday. "I'm trying to stand up for us because we do get the short end of the stick ' negative stories."
Winder had been writing under the name Richard Burwash, an alias he actually swiped from a real man ' a one-time professional tennis player from California ' that he found on the Internet.
He said getting stories published by the Deseret News, KSL-TV's website and a community weekly was as easy as setting up a Gmail account and Facebook page. He communicated with editors by email and phone, never showing his face.
As an unpaid writer for several months earlier this year, the so-called Burwash even quoted himself as mayor in some stories. In one published piece, he wrote about the opening of a Buddhist Temple in his Salt Lake City suburb, quoting himself as saying, "We applaud any time a group builds a place to celebrate peace and to encourage people to live better lives."
"I was an easy source," he quipped Friday.
He even let his sister write one story under his alias. But he maintains all the stories were "100 percent factually correct" ' except for the byline, of course.
Executives at the Deseret News, one of Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers, were not amused.
"While we appreciate that Mayor Winder would, of his own accord, quit writing under the assumed name and then detail the error to us, we remain highly concerned that someone would purposely misrepresent himself," Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, told the newspaper. "We deeply regret that Mayor Winder would do this."
Gilbert didn't return messages left Friday by The Associated Press.
The Deseret News said it has published about 5,500 articles by 2,000 contributors in the past year. The paper began accepting contributions after cutting its newsroom staff and consolidating operations with affiliated television and radio stations.
That's when Winder saw an opportunity and hatched the idea of writing his own news stories. He complained crime stories made up 56 percent of the coverage of West Valley City by the Desert News over three months earlier this year.
Now eyeing a run for mayor of Salt Lake County, Winder decided it was time to come clean.
"I'd rather disclose it on my own terms than by a political enemy," he said.
Winder walked into the publisher's office at the Deseret News this week and asked about the paper's policy on pen names. He was told they aren't allowed.
"I said, 'Well, we have a situation,'" Winder said.
Reaction from residents in West Valley City was mixed. Some compared their mayor to historic figures who wrote under pen names during the American revolution. Others questioned whether the politician might have other secrets.
"He's the mayor, but I don't see him doing anything," said Pat Gonzales, a dry-cleaning assistant at Century Laundry and 30-year West Valley resident. "Maybe he's too busy being a news reporter."
Winder, who said he just likes to write, is now giving up his side job.
"It was interesting to be a journalist for a few months," he said. "The only crime was my name."