Going Easy on Drunk Drivers?
Journal Sentinel wouldn’t report a CEO’s drunk driving, but Patch.com did. Who’s right?
The headline was darkly funny: “Tosa police: Drunken driver thought he was in Whitefish Bay.”
Yep, the driver was so intoxicated he thought he was “close to Wilshire” boulevard in “Whitefish Bay,” as he told the Wauwatosa Police officer, when apprehended on the 2200 block of Wauwatosa Avenue.
“Police caught the man,” reporter Michael Runyon wrote, “after a driver reported a vehicle striking multiple curbs and weaving in and out of traffic.”
“The man alluded to his status as CEO of a company twice on the trip to the police station,” the story went on. “While he was being booked, he mentioned knowing the Milwaukee County executive… When going over the paperwork, he asked if there could be any leniency on the documents. He also asked the officer if there was any “professional discretion” that could be used.”
That’s about the extent of the story published by the Journal Sentinel’s Wauwatosa NOW website and also run on the jsonline.com “Newswatch” ticker. The driver’s name is never disclosed, nor the company he runs, nor anything about his alleged relationship with a top politician.
The story seems to cry out for coverage, which was provided by the online Wauwatosa Patch.com. The driver was John D. Emory, Jr., 41, President and CEO of Emory & Co., an investment banking company started by his father. Emory was very involved in Chris Abele’s campaigns for county executive, co-hosting at least one fundraiser and serving on the “Job Creators” steering committee supporting Abele.
The Patch story also offers more details supporting its conclusion that Emory “appeared to make a number of attempts to use his position to get out of the ticket.”
The fact that that Journal Sentinel protected Emory frosted at least one state Capitol insider, who called me to complain about the “hypocrisy” of a newspaper that has campaigned against drunk driving and done editorials chiding state legislators for not passing tough enough legislation.
The newspaper has also done a series outing Milwaukee Police officers arrested for drunken driving. As one reader commented in response to Tosa NOW story, “If this was an MPD officer I’m sure JS would have his name, rank, work history, past disciplinary actions, picture, and personal information posted BEFORE HE WAS CONVICTED!”
I emailed Scott Peterson, editor-in-chief of the NOW publications, and he explained why Emory’s name was not disclosed: “our standing policy is to not identify someone in NOW newspapers who has been accused of an infraction like this unless they are formally charged by the DA or convicted,” he wrote. “Like any news organization, we would break this rule if there were extenuating circumstances, such as being a public figure or in cases where there are matters of greater public interest at stake.”
You can bet if Emory was a politician or a pro ballplayer or someone similarly notable, the name and details would be published. And the paper has done a series on discipline of police, making an issue of those who’ve driven drunk. But the Journal Sentinel has generally not wanted to drag the names of business execs through the mud.
Indeed, going through the archive of JS stories on drunk driving, they are typically about drunk driving accidents or those who’ve been picked up for the 15th or 20th time for drunken driving. So Emory was treated in the normal fashion.
So why did Patch.com publish the details on him? “That was a close call,” says Mark Maley, the regional editor of 15 Patch.com publications (who formerly ran the JS NOW publications). “Typically, we don’t name drunken drivers…but because this person was a CEO and because, if you read our story, he kind of flaunted his position after being stopped, we thought we should name him. Typically, we don’t, however.”
The fact that Emory served as a key campaign supporter for Abele might be cited as further reason to report his name.
Still, I find it hard to take issue with the Journal Sentinel policy. The reality is that the upstart publication, like Patch, is likely to be more aggressive, and report something like this. It’s just another example of why it’s good to have competition between media entities.
The Tosa Patch publication also beat the Journal Sentinel on the story of slain Wauwatosa police officer Jennifer Sebena. Patch was quicker to report the original story of the murder and also beat the JS in reporting her husband had been arrested and taken into custody for the offense.
Patch.com offers a classic example of hyperlocal journalism. It was created by former Google Executive Tim Armstrong, who went on to become the CEO of AOL.Inc and then oversaw its acquisition of Patch. As Erik Gunn reported for Milwaukee Magazine in March 2011, AOL invested $50 million in these sites nationally and had hired some 900 journalists, a figure which has probably grown.
Patch has devoted itself to smaller communities in America, mostly suburbs. The Milwaukee chain serves only suburbs, from Caledonia and Oak Creek on the south to Greenfield and Waukesha on the west to Whitefish Bay and Port Washington going north.
That provides some competition for the JS in the suburbs, which is great. But meanwhile, the JS has for years been doing less coverage of the city, and there are many neighborhoods in Milwaukee with a population larger than some of the suburbs that have both a Patch site and NOW publication devoted to it. It was with that in mind that UrbanMilwaukee.com was created, to offer more coverage of the city.
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