SALT LAKE CITY -- Disguising himself with an alias, the mayor of Utah's second-largest city has been writing upbeat freelance articles about his town for area news outlets because he claimed 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," West Valley City Mayor Mike 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 swiped from a real man, a one-time professional tennis player from California, whom 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.
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.