Publisher Admits Error

By Noack, David | Editor & Publisher, May 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Publisher Admits Error


Noack, David, Editor & Publisher


Akron police chief at center of controversy

In a case of knowing but not telling, the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal admitted that its publisher and police reporter had been told by the city's police chief that his wife claimed he abused her, but a story didn't appear for nearly two months.

The paper published an account of the events last Tuesday as part of a series focusing on how the Akron Police Department investigated the abuse allegation. The story explained why the newspaper did not publish an article when allegation were first made last October. It wasn't until mid-December, when an anonymous tipster called another reporter at the paper to check out a specific police case file, that the story ran.

So far, fallout from the incident has included a public explanation from John L. Dotson Jr., the publisher, to readers about his role in the matter and Robert Hoiles, the police reporter, being reassigned. The case raises questions about whether a publisher has an obligation to pass along significant story tips to the newsroom and when and under what circumstances does a reporter make a pledge of confidentiality.

Media ethics observers say the paper did the right thing in admitting its mistakes and explaining the situation to readers but faulted the reporter for being too quick to offer confidentiality.

The chain of events that led to the paper's published admission, began October 15, when Dotson got a call from police chief Edward Irvine about his wife, Gevena, explaining that she was in the hospital and had accused him of pushing her. Irvine called Doston to see that if a story appeared, would he be treated fairly. Doston said he doesn't mettle in newsroom matters but would keep an eye out for the story. However, when the story never appeared on the news budget for several days, Dotson figured the story didn't pan out.

In his column to readers, Dotson says: "My philosophy as publisher has been to carefully separate my responsibilities on the business side from those I have on the news side. That is what guided my thinking when Ed Irvine called that afternoon back in October. Clearly, in hindsight, I was misled and may not have been as alert as I should have been to a significant possible news story involving a major department of our city government. I may have erred. If so, I can assure you, our readers, that I won't make the same mistake again."

While the police chief informed Dotson, he also told Hoiles, the paper's veteran police reporter. According to a story in the Beacon Journal, Hoiles says he's not quite sure when he was told by the chief last October that there was an investigation.

He recalls the chief saying to him that he wanted to tell him something in confidence, to which Hoiles agreed. "What am I suppose to do? Am I suppose to go back on my word?" Hoiles said in the Beacon Journal article. The paper reports that Hoiles has refused to discuss the details of his conversation with the police chief, other than to say he learned of the abuse complaint. However, the chief denies that he sought a pledge of confidentiality.

During a formal investigation into the abuse allegation made by the chief's wife, she recanted her story, saying her husband did not hurt her. "He didn't do anything to me," she says. "The reason I said this is because I was so embarrassed, you know, after I took my medication, that I had forgotten that I had taken it the previous morning, and I took another one that evening. …

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