February 2, 2010

Journal Times denies Racine police request for fire photos

The Racine Police Department is seeking a subpoena to obtain photos the The Journal Times took of a fire that left a mother and her child dead.

Police Chief Kurt Wahlen had asked the JT to provide all the pictures it took of the August 2006 apartment building fire on Durand Avenue, including those not published. Following JT policy, Editor Steve Lovejoy declined the request.

The exchange between Lovejoy and Wahlen raises interesting, long-standing questions about the newspaper's role in the community. Does the JT, which serves as Racine's primary source for news, exist as an integral part of the community? Or is it a dispassionate observer of events more focused on business than community?

To be fair, the answer likely lies somewhere in between. But Wahlen lays bare the JT's shortcomings in its zest to cover (and profit from) crime, while at the same time removing itself from the story with a simple recitation of journalistic principles.

Here's Wahlen's letter to Lovejoy:
Steve: We have come a long ways. A while back I reviewed the photos from the Tina Davidson homicide which occurred in 1973. The JT did the photography work for us. (It would have been nice if the JT would have taken a few more photos too.) Now I find that you do not wish to be considered an arm of law enforcement and will not relinquish possible evidentiary photos without a subpoena.

What happened to taking a stand for what is right and doing the right thing? It is interesting to note that the JT makes a profit off violence in our community, yet it backs away from assisting our community with addressing violence. As for fear of retaliation, I am thankful for the few brave souls in our city who have had enough and stand up to those who would keep them locked in their homes. They live in close proximity to those you fear and yet are willing to take a stand and do what is right.

The photos I requested concern the untimely death of a mother and her daughter in a fire. Should you not be on the side of justice for these victims? If you are going to make a living from reporting violence in our community, you should likewise take a stand against it.

We will seek the subpoena.


And here is Lovejoy's response to Wahlen's initial request for the photos, which ostensibly would help the PD's investigation of the fatal fire:

We’re always glad to cooperate when we can but we do not release unpublished photos or videos to police agencies unless they are subpoenaed. We do not want our reporters and photographers being viewed as arms of law enforcement and possibly subjected to danger.

Give me a call if you would like to discuss it.

Steve Lovejoy

I was working as the JT's city editor at the time of the 2006 fire, and recall the newspaper publishing a number of photos both in the newspaper and on the website of the tragic blaze. I'm pretty sure the JT's photo staff won awards for their coverage of the event.

At the time, no doubt I would have supported Lovejoy's stance. Reporters can lose the trust of the public if they are seen as agents of the law. But now, a few years removed from corporate journalism - and firmly enmeshed in community journalism - I find myself siding with Wahlen in this particular instance. Why wouldn't the newspaper help investigate this crime? What do they have to gain from not helping?

I remember former editor Randy Brandt coming up with an elegant solution to a similar situation. He had the photo staff publish all of its photos from a crime scene on the website. It met the newspaper's guidelines for only turning over published photos, and allowed police to review all of the images.

In this particular case, it's unclear what photos the JT would have left from the Durand Avenue fire. But there doesn't seem to be much upside in keeping any unpublished images hidden, simply because police asked for them.

The bigger issue for the JT is an urgent need to rethink its role in the community. The paper spends relatively little time challenging people in power - including the police department - compared to its aggressive retelling of people's crimes and shortcomings. The paper would do well to focus on helping people in need and challenging the people who aren't meeting those needs.

Interestingly, one of the JT's best community-minded journalists is Mark Hertzberg, the paper's tireless photo director who has spent years working to improve the city and its image. Hertzberg's career is the JT's best response to Wahlen's accusations; it's also a model for everyone else at the newspaper to follow.

Until the paper reviews its role in the community, and makes needed changes, it's susceptible to questions about its motivation. Here's a letter to the editor I wrote to the paper on Jan. 25, but was not published:
Dear Editor,

I read with interest your coverage of SC Johnson's new Fortaleza Hall in Sunday's paper. The impressive new building on SCJ's historic campus is a remarkable architectural accomplishment and a monumental tribute to the late, great Sam Johnson. The story explained the project well and the photos were, as usual, superb.

However, I found a surprising omission in the coverage. At no point did the story report that a large portion of SC Johnson's new building is exempt from property taxes. The corporation found a loophole in state law that allowed Gov. Jim Doyle to sign an executive order exempting Fortaleza Hall from property taxes. The Journal Times itself reported this fact on May 23, 2009, noting SC Johnson was the only corporation in the state to receive such an exemption. But this detail, which will cost local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, was left out of the celebratory story announcing the building to the public.

The Journal Times does itself no favors in securing "exclusive" tours with SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson, and then failing to recount its own reporting on questionable public policy that will benefit a multi-billion dollar corporation at the expense of local taxpayers. Either The Journal Times left out the information as part of a deal for the exclusive tour, or simply forgot to include critical piece of back story to Fortaleza Hall. Neither possibility speaks well for our daily paper, which once again failed to report on Racine's rich and powerful with the same vigor they relay the crimes and shortcomings of our city's downtrodden. The Journal Times can, and must, do better.

Dustin Block


  1. Steven Lovejoy should be fired! He has turned the Journal-Times in to a cheap rag. It's sad that everyday the paper is full of negative thrash.

  2. you mean like the mostly negative comments here on Racine Post?

  3. Pretty bad when the Chief of Police can not even get photo's of an old crime scene! By the way on the bottom of every photo is the name of the photographer so what's to hide?

  4. Sounds like the JT has become too self important and full of its self. This isn't Watergate or some other deep throat investigation with sources to protect. Seems like the last bit of common sense has also left the JT building.

  5. In this day and age of a camera on every cell phone and anything you post on Facebook can and will be used against you, why won't the JT work with the police to help them solve the crime. They would certainly be recognized if they submitted the photograph that solved the crime.

  6. Thats plain out BS on the JT's part. They have turned into a rag and all they want is a profit. If you look at other news sources online in this town, the JT "borrows", "steals" ideas from the little guys, some of which make no profit and honestly want to help this community become better. You never know that quite possibly something in that photo could help the police. Alot of times in arson cases, the person responsible stays around to watch.

  7. Read what is being said! All the police have to do is get a subpoena and they have the picture. They is a fairly common practice, especially with government employees. They subpoena provides protection from future legal actions against the individual who provides information.

  8. The City Attorney hasn't had much to do since the Becker and non-related personnel problems have been handled (well there are issues like the vacant Washington Ave. site in West Racine). Surely there's enough time on his calendar to get a subpoena for the cops.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Dustin - it amazes me that you post a letter to the editor that has absolutely nothing to do with this issue. It sounds to me your continued left winged politics trying to drag SC Johnson through the mud once again. Whether you agree with the tax exemption or not, this has nothing to do with the JT's refusal to release photograph's to the police department - take your liberal ideas elsewhere.

  11. Orbs - behave yourself.

  12. This seems like a lot of emotion for something that happens all the time across the country at news outlets.

  13. I have had a subscription to the JT for almost two decades, many editors and publishers have come and gone.

    I have never been more disappointed with the JT than under Steve Lovejoy's "leadership".

    Whatever partnership the JT has shared with the community has disappeared under him. This is just further evidence of how disconnected they are.

    I am canceling my subscription and this is just the kind of reason I have been waiting for to finally end it.

  14. I am all for the JT waiting for a subpoena. What if, instead of pictures, it was bank account info? Would a bank simply release the info without a court order?
    Also, why does the JT have anymore "community" responsibility than The Olive Garden, or the Goodyear Tire store?

  15. I think dustin is just crying because Scj did not invite him to the event. I did hear through the grapevine that you guys did sneak in. They should have had you arrested.

  16. I have to agree with Dustin on this one. The Police were not asking the paper to give up an informant or how they got their information. They are asking for photos, that the JT may have published. The crime is 3 years old. I don't think at this point there is anyone at the JT who's personal safety would be at risk since these pictures probably already ran. They talk about being a community paper and they don't seem to be what they once were.

  17. Done. Canceled the paper. Think I'll sign up for the Journal Sentinel.

  18. Michael Kroes2/02/2010 12:30 PM

    I agree with the subpoena route. The JT would be compliant with the request and the Police Department would have what they want.

    Dustin, it appears to me that you have a bug up your behind over SCJ and their new structure.

  19. Fortaleza Hall is wonderful - I was there Saturday and this is going to be great for the community. It will bring in additional tourist to town. Now lets hear from all you Waxi haters. Maybe Dustin falls into this category since he took a swipe at SCJ in this article.

  20. Mark H. the photographer doesn't have problem posting 1 picture for sure on the internet (not at the JT site either!) covering this photo....

  21. @ anon 1:01, In English please?!

  22. I wish the Racine Post was in print vs. the Urinal Times.

    Lovejoy should have just turned them over unless there are any know protection issues which would harm him or the JT that exist right now. Then I could see a supena.

    The JT should be playing nice in the community and those who serve and protect it.

  23. OK fine, get the subpoena for the photos, play their silly game, and then make them file Freedom of Information requests for EVERY tidbit of police related information they want for their rag. Give them NO press release information, case info, access to any PD brass, nothing without making a formal request under State Statutes. I would like to hear an opinion from the DA about if the photos are protected from release under any statute or if the photos constitute evidence and with holding them is obstructing the police. It's a 2 way street Lovejoy!

  24. I don't see a bug up Dustin's arse. I see someone who wants transparency about the tax issue. What's wrong with that?

    It's no secret that the Racine Journal is poorly written, leans exclusively towards Paul Ryan, doesn't allow for commentary on his exclusive press releases.

    Racine Journal doesn't have the heart and soul of the community, it hasn't for a long time. They have turned into a republican rag looking for any cheesy headline.

    No, I see Dustin holding the JT to the fire for transparency. Something some of you would be screaming about if you saw "Obama" or "Dickert" or "Mason" but because it is the Johnson Wax, their deal with exclusive tax write off's should not have any commentary.

  25. I see a lack of consistency here. The JT wrote a story about the opening of Fortaleza Hall. The Post did a story also (see "The Carnauba has landed").
    These stories were both about the opening and both didn't include the tax information. The tax issue was covered in other writings.
    If you are accusing the JT of poor journalism then you are also accusing yourself. They were staying on the topic, which is the same as the Post.


  26. 5:43 - Knucklehead, this story has nothing to do with Fortaleza Hall. It has to do whether the police chief needs to supeona the photos of the fire or not - now there are two knuckheads you and Dustin. Just trying to drag SCJ through the mud totally off subject.

  27. The JT story was about the opening of the exhibit, Dustin. To expect them to write about the tax issue in that story is like expecting them to write about the time Prince Fielder stole a candy bar in a story about him hitting a game winning home run.

    Maybe you'd have a case if the JT NEVER addressed the tax issue, but they did. Get over it.

  28. I think this is one of those things that can be looked at on a case by case basis. In this case you should have just given law enforcement the pictures. To slow down their investigation is irresponsible and if law enforcement was asking a private citizen for the pictures and they refused it would be called "obstruction of justice" a chargeable offence.

  29. This is all about Dustin and Pete getting fired from the JT. If the JT which is owned by a public company has a policy to require a subpeona I would assume the editor would want that subpeona before risking his job. Whalen should understand that, I'm sure the police have a procedure to follow before any material is released to the paper.

  30. The bigger story is about the JT's role in the community. They traded favorable coverage for SCJ for access to Fortaleza Hall. In the process, they failed to present the entire story. (Incidentally, mentioning SCJ's tax break doesn't take away from the new building or drag the company through the mud. It simply, accurately reflects a corporation's efforts to avoid paying property taxes.)

    This fits with Chief Wahlen's letter because he observes the JT spends a lot of ink writing about crime in Racine, but doesn't seem to be particularly invested in preventing or solving crimes. The dirty secret of the JT and most newspapers is that they make money - lots of money - off of people's suffering. Yes, the newspaper also helps a lot of people. But I believe they can, and should, do more.

    You can't act like a journalist in one instance (ie. demand a subpoena for three-year-old photos) and a PR company in another (ie. coverage of Fortaleza Hall, Rep. Paul Ryan's columns, etc.)

    As for suggesting we got fired ... uh, no. But if that's the story going around 212 Fourth St., so be it.

  31. 10:08 - Knucklehead, re-read the article.

  32. Opening Fortaleza...Property Tax Exemption...TWO different topics hence two different stories.
    As an example, are you going to complain to the JT for not mentioning where the steel pillars were made? Or where the wood came from...stay on topic.
    Both are valid stories. Both deserve separate coverage.


  33. Dustin - that is a real stretch - the two stories have nothing to do with one another - get back on subject and stop throwing your liberalism around.

  34. Didn’t know Dustin and Pete were lefty's) and I’m a conservative) If anything I view the Urinal Times as a leftist piece of toilet paper. They are cowards and fail to tackle corruption and conspiracies in the community.

    I for one have been pleased with Dustin and Pete's work with the Racine Post. KEEP IT UP , EH?

  35. Hunter John brought up a very valid point, if they were privately owned then it would be obstruction. Well if you google Mark Hertzbergs name and photos there are photos that he took that he has posted privately under his name and not representation of the JT

  36. Dustin is absolutely correct, the JT wants it both ways and fails to do what serves the community the most: be fair, ask tough questions and use a little common sense.

    Hunter John got it right, this is a case by case circumstance. They have an opportunity to assist in the investigation and they will not. Maybe the Chief should start taking out ads and he'd see cooperation.

    The JT years under Pete and Dustin were some of the best.

    Since when is assisting the police department a lefty position? LOL!

  37. 12:53 - read the article and the post - Dustin is trying to trash SCJ. He does not like capitalism.

  38. Seems like the JT is developing a nasty little habit of not publishing certain letters sent to them.

  39. "Seems like the JT is developing a nasty little habit of not publishing certain letters sent to them." - You are not kidding! I sent them letters about corruption in the jails, guards using overtime like a game and sleeping in front of inmates! Not to mention favors to guards from inmates in hubor to hang out at home instead of working and coming back. Most of those people that work in that building are just as crooked as the ones behind bars.

  40. The journal times should be able to make a judgment call and share the photos.

    Our chief should be able to get a subpoena. If it is difficult than that is a problem. Using intimidation to violate the Constitution is what happens when people get lazy about these things.

  41. Hey. I don't normally leave comments, but I just wanted to say thanks for the great information. I have a blog too, though
    I don't write as good as you do, but if you want to check it out here it is. Thanks again and have a great day!


  42. Why do all the cops bow down to Hertzberg every time he shows up at something "interesting" to take photos?

    Maybe those cops should be disciplined for being leniant allowing Hertzberg/JT special favors?

  43. Anon 11:48, there is a huge difference between asking for someone's personal financial account number and offering up a photograph of a crime scene. DUH!

    Subpoenas take time and cost money, while the perpetrators of the arson distance themselves even further away. This comes down to a matter of common sense and community. The idea of fearing retribution is a pretty poor excuse to deny possible evidence in an arson/murder investigation. If fear of retaliation was truly a concern, then no newspaper would dare print a picture on the front page of public enemies.

    If the JT isn't going to be public spirited enough to offer up evidence that could put an arsonist or a killer behind bars, then they don't need my support any longer, either.

    Anon 12:01, Pete and Dustin are about as left as you can get. Once in a while, on very seldom occasions, they do exercise a little bit of the gray matter and get it right. But it is pretty rare. As for Hunter John, he called it right, once again.

  44. Thus far, I’ve stayed out of any discussions regarding The Journal Times, where I was editor for 10 years at the end of a 35-year career.

    I won’t second-guess the editor’s decision not to turn over to police photographs of fire because he’s in that hot seat now, not me, but I know it’s really tough.

    And while I appreciate Dustin’s earlier reference to my “elegant solution” to a similar situation, I can say it’s never easy striking a balance in the myriad of ethical decisions an editor must make every day.

    I know one thing: It’s very bad for a newspaper if people think you’re the cops or working for the cops.

    If nothing else, it makes it nearly impossible to present a balanced report of a later trial, with people still believing you’re giving both the prosecution and the defense a fair shake.

    Once your reporters or photographers are called as witnesses for the prosecution (to id a photo or testify about an interview) you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to arrange for independent, credible coverage of a continuing case or trial. This can be a tremendous burden on a small community newspaper with a small staff.

    As a reporter, I once had to give up a story that I’d worked on for more than a year because I got subpoenaed as a witness. It hurt, and it made a real challenge for the newspaper to decide how to proceed with the coverage.

    But that’s just one reason many if not most editors don’t automatically fork over outtake (unused) photos or reporters’ notes without a subpoena, and even then, many risk jail to resist.

    And as every editor knows, if people think you’re with the cops, you can easily put your staffers potentially in harm’s way on almost any given day.

    When I started in the businesses almost four decades ago, there was a pretty reliable tradition of the bad guys not hurting or killing reporters. A single episode of that in Arizona in the ‘70s drew down a huge, outraged response, within and outside the profession.

    You see, sometimes reporters have to talk to the bad guys to tell a whole story, and they can’t do that if people think they’re the cops.

    Does this make them bad citizens? No, it makes them good reporters.

    Many years ago, I was pulled out of harm’s way in a riot and protected when a gang leader recognized me as a reporter and told the others to leave me alone. It was because I’d interviewed him once and he knew I wasn’t a cop or working for the cops.

    Things have changed in more recent times. People are becoming more likely to believe that when they talk to a reporter or allow a photographer to take their picture, they could wind up in an adversarial position later in court.

    If newspaper people are viewed as potential witnesses or even as cops, they’re placed in real danger. Conversely, that’s why it’s against the law for any police officer or federal investigator to pose as a journalist, without the express permission of the U.S. attorney general.

    When that happens, it puts all professional journalists in danger.

    This danger is very real. At another paper, one of my photographers was beaten blind, his camera smashed, by a crowd who thought his taking pictures during a civil disturbance might later be used by police to help identify them.

    He was never able to work again.

    Editors can and do send their staff members into situations like that on any given day.

    As the editor, you’re not normally out there with them to share that risk. You’re back in the office, safe. When you have the responsibility of sending them out, it’s not your personal courage that’s being tested; it’s theirs, and you want to give them every edge you can.

    Doing all you can to make sure people don’t think the newspaper is working for the cops provides some small measure of safety.

    It serves society's purpose too, for it maintains the objective integrity of a newspaper.

    In each case as an editor, you try to do the right thing as clearly as you can see it, but it’s not always clear and it’s certainly never easy.

  45. Very good commentary Randolph!

    I have to admit during your watch at the Racine Journal-Times it was a pretty upbeat paper. It seems your style trickled down through out your staff and you put out one hell of a positive paper.

    There is something wrong lately.
    Personally I feel there is to much focus on crime.

    You had built a amazing team of reports and staff. Ya Did a great Job! Thanks

  46. Very thorough explanation. Hopefully this help others understand.


  47. Good explanation Randolph, you are a classy guy and the paper was better during your days on the job.

    There is something wrong with the JT that goes beyond this particular situation. Lovejoy's response was smarmy as usual. Perhaps if he processed a tenth of your eloquence it might not look so self-serving.

    Common sense should prevail and sometimes that requires some creativity.

  48. There's a natural "halo" effect to newspapers, in which they always seem to have been better in the past.

    In my experience, newspapers generally have gotten better over time, though these are particularly trying times for newspapers, so I can't be sure anymore.

    Still, it may just be people's selective memories at work when they think otherwise.

    But thanks anyway.

  49. 12:37 - Randy's a classy guy? He is a communist, hardly classy.

  50. Randolph

    You have so much insight and wisdom about things related to Racine and a sensible outlook on life in general.

    Racine needs more of your input!

    Would you ever consider writing a
    Perspective or opinion column here on the Racine Post -- if they let you?

    Just a thought. You have the feel of the real world and what's happening around Racine. Of course no one has all the answers. But we can't stick our head in a hole and let things just past by.

    If your not interested in joining with Dustin and Pete I understand.

    But please be active on here Racine needs helpful new voices.

    Randolph, please consider it?

    Also years ago Racine had a group of retired businessmen and civic leaders who acted like a brain trust -I think the groups name was "Junior Achievement". They helped and encouraged young future entrepreneurs. We need this again.

    My only interest here is I care about my home town and what I see lately frightens me.

  51. That's the last thing we need is Randy's commentary - we had enough of his communist postions when he wrote commentary for the JT's. He's living in the wrong country.

  52. I don't believe in his political stance either but he does provide some wisdom and is non-combative when it comes to discussing his opposing viewpoints.
    There is nothing wrong with healthy debate. Sometimes it brings out the best ideas. Face it, this is a multi-party nation.

  53. It does not include communism.

  54. SDJ

    Your down to earth comments are valued too- SDJ.

    Years ago I wrote a few opinions on the Journal- Times Blog and Rob would delete them. I was just pointing out why some things changed in Racine. But he didn't like it and pulled them.

    I knew how some of these things unfolded because I was there and in some cases part of the problem.

    Does anybody know the real reason or what the main contributing factor was that ended "Scooping the loop" in Downtown Racine in 1969? -- Well I do! and traffic was not the main issue! Scooping had gone on for years and it was a part of the social culture of Racine. But who cares? It's gone now.

  55. Scooper - get a life.