This morning just after 7:30, I got e-mail from a blogger asking me for comment on an item on another blog saying that former Star columnist Rhonda Chriss Lokeman had been arrested on the evening of Jan. 1, 2009 on a DUI charge. There's a story about it now on KansasCity.com.
It was news to me. And as I discovered when I asked editors in the newsroom, nobody there knew about it there either, from the police/justice assistant city editor on up to editor and vice president Mike Fannin. Obviously, they know now. Reporters don't look at daily records of traffic violations and arrests, though anyone can find Missouri court records at Case.net. Cases have to be entered into the system before they're searchable there, obviously. Most media don't find out about traffic stops and arrests of notable people unless someone tips them off. That didn't happen here until this morning.
So do I think should it have been reported even today, asked one blogger who wrote me? Rhonda's a public figure with a very long history at The Star and The Kansas City Times. She started as a reporter in 1981, then joined the editorial board and began writing columns in 1984.
She resigned her position when her husband Mark Zieman became publisher in March of 2008, because company policy doesn't allow spouses to be in the direct line of supervision (and obviously, the publisher is over all employees). The Star carried her now-retired syndicated column from Creators up until Dec. 28 of last year, when the final one ran.
I'd say sure, this story is worth noting, inasmuch as she's a name who's known to readers of The Star.
In this age of transparency and full disclosure, how big of Derek Donovan to admit this story is newsworthy. (Tip for Derek -- the KC Star posted a story on a DUI by D-list celebrity Gary Collins just this morning; subscribers should be informed about a DUI by a 20-year columnist at your paper.) His position has actually evolved over the day. He emailed me at 6:55 AM, saying he hadn't heard of the story, but he told me he doubted it was newsworthy:
"So should the paper report on the arrest of a former staffer and wife of the publisher in principle? I don't really know that it's news, especially if it happened after her employment at the paper and stopping her syndicated column."But I'm not going to beat up on him for adjusting his opinion on whether the story is newsworthy. As more information came out during the day, it became obvious -- even to people wary of transparency -- that this was a story the KC Star should cover.
But the amazing thing is that publisher Mark Zieman -- who had to know the story would become public at some point -- didn't get out in front of it and have his own reporters do a story on the DUI -- before a blogger 1,500 miles away did the story. Zieman's attempt to keep it a secret has embarrassed his readers representative and his entire newspaper.