MIAMI — For nearly a year, Tania deLuzuriaga covered the nation's fourth-largest school district for the Miami Herald.
Now, the former education reporter finds herself at the center of another news story: a simmering scandal over the nature of her relationship with the man who turned down the Pinellas superintendent's job and became Miami-Dade's school chief Friday.
A series of e-mail exchanges last year between deLuzuriaga and Alberto Carvalho, then an associate superintendent, reveal not only romantic ties but also their attempts to boost each other's professional careers.
It is not clear if the nearly two dozen e-mails are authentic. Carvalho, who has denied any romantic relationship, at first questioned the legitimacy of the e-mails, but Friday he said it was possible they are authentic. He said he does not remember getting any explicit messages from deLuzuriaga and might simply have never read them.
DeLuzuriaga, who left the Herald in September 2007 for the Boston Globe, declined to comment, as did the Globe's editor, Martin Baron.
The e-mails, most of them from the reporter to Carvalho, include some explicit sexual language and her complaints about the relationship apparently cooling off. Some also discuss their professional relationship. In one e-mail, deLuzuriaga purportedly wrote to Carvalho about her coverage of the looming budget crisis in August 2007 and stressed the importance of working as partners.
"I have not been as sensitive to your position and helping you as you have been to me," deLuzuriaga purportedly wrote in an Aug. 8, 2007, e-mail to Carvalho. "But you're right — if it doesn't compromise us professionally, we ought to act in ways that help one another … and it is important for you in this political climate."
The Herald reviewed about 24 e-mails, mostly written by the reporter through personal and company e-mail accounts, and about 110 published stories authored by deLuzuriaga in 2007.
Her stories seemed generally neutral. Carvalho, who spoke for the school district as part of his duties, was quoted in about 30 of them.
The Herald's newsroom ethics policy says reporters and editors "must avoid outside relationships, business involvements and personal dealings that are in conflict or may have the appearance of conflict with our roles at work." When conflicts arise, reporters and editors are required to inform editors.
"If these e-mails are real, this violates some of the most basic rules of our profession," said Herald executive editor Anders Gyllenhaal.
In an e-mail deLuzuriaga purportedly sent after writing a story about the School Board's meeting on Aug. 1, 2007, she assured Carvalho that she understood his view on coverage:
"I see your point about the quotes and giving credit … and I ask for your understanding when I miss the opportunity," the e-mail reads. "It's not intentional — you know that."
The e-mail messages came to light last week when they began circulating among School Board members and district employees and were posted on the Internet.
A law professor who runs an ethics center at the University of Miami said the e-mails show serious ethical lapses on both sides.
"Assuming that the e-mails are accurate, they demonstrate that the reporter by her own repeated acknowledgment compromised both her objectivity and impartiality in reporting as a result of her personal relationship with Carvalho," said Tony Alfieri, director of UM's Center for Ethics and Public Service. "Equally disturbing, it seems clear that she again by her own admission worked diligently to advance Carvalho's professional and career interests."
Kelly McBride, who oversees the ethics program at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism training center in St. Petersburg, also said the relationship, if it existed, raises troubling questions about both the reporter and the school administrator.
"You have a reporter with a significant conflict of interest who is violating all sorts of policies and potentially allowing that conflict to affect coverage of the news," McBride said.
The superintendent, she said, also would have to explain to his bosses — School Board members, parents and taxpayers — why the behavior alleged in the e-mails is appropriate for a senior school official.
"If this were a teacher or a principal of a high school, you would certainly be concerned," she said. "This type of behavior goes to questions of character."