Is a missing person news? | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is a missing person news?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2008 at 11:49 AM

No, I have little concrete to report on the case of John Glasgow, the construction company executive now missing more than a month. (I have been informed that a deep, forensic-style audit of the CDI's books only confirms what has been said repeatedly so far -- there are no signs of financial misdeeds.)

But I have received an opinion article by Roy Ockert Jr. of the Jonesboro Sun on how important it can be for news media to treat a missing person's case like news. The context is that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state's most powerful medium, has in the Glasgow case followed a general practice against giving broad attention to missing adults absent evidence of foul play. Read the veteran journalist's take on the jump.

By Roy Ockert Jr.
The Jonesboro Sun

Missing person — John Glasgow — 45 years old — Little Rock, Ark. — $70,000 reward offered for return.

So reads the flyer being distributed by friends and family members of a Little Rock business executive who left home on Monday, Jan. 28, and never returned. The next day his Volvo sport utility vehicle was found parked in front of Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park. A full-scale search on the rugged mountain turned up no other trace of Glasgow, and indeed authorities don’t know whether he was ever there. A tourist’s time-stamped photo of the lodge shows the Volvo was there by 4:30 p.m. that Monday.

At the time of his disappearance Glasgow was chief financial officer of Little Rock’s CDI Contractors. He was in the process of trying to become a part owner of the company, of which the Dillard family of Dillard’s Department Stores fame is half-owner.
Glasgow left his house about 5:30 a.m. that day, apparently on the way to his office, but he never arrived. According to information on a Web site established by his friends and family ( <> ), a cell phone ping later that day indicated he was in the Petit Jean area, which led to the discovery of his vehicle. It was found unlocked with his laptop computer still inside.

After five days the search was called off, but an investigation continues.

Logs for users of several Little Rock media Web sites have drawn hundreds of comments from friends, family members, work colleagues and others concerned about Glasgow. Many of them tell a story of a happy man who was financially secure and express doubt that he would “run away from it all.”

But there is no evidence of foul play, at least not that the authorities have made public.

That, of course, creates a huge mystery, and his case has been followed closely by many news media outlets, including CNN. Let’s Bring Them Home, a national missing persons advocacy organization based in Northwest Arkansas, is providing the family with support services, adding $20,000 to the original $50,000 reward as well as a 24-hour toll-free “no cops” tip line.

This nonprofit organization is one of the few in the country that gets involved in missing persons cases involving adults and recently assisted in the recovery of four people across the United States.

Missing adults cases simply don’t get attention like those involving missing children, probably for good reason. Sometimes adults leave home and don’t come back.

That may be why the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s biggest newspaper, has offered little coverage of the Glasgow case, first running a story only on its Web site and then a couple of short stories later. The newspaper didn’t run a picture of the missing man until the family bought an ad seeking information about his disappearance. Curiously, Democrat-Gazette editors said the reason was that the newspaper has learned not every missing person case involves foul play or kidnapping.

That’s certainly within the rights of my friends at the statewide newspaper, but they are ignoring the news value of this particular case. Even if Glasgow did run away, it’s a news story.

I’m glad the old Arkansas Democrat and its sister newspaper, the Hot Springs Sentinel Record, didn’t take such a stance in August 1976 when my sister, Linda Edwards, similarly turned up missing. She was not a prominent business executive, but rather a Garland County deputy sheriff-dispatcher, off-duty when she disappeared one night.

She left her two children in the care of a friend at a Hot Springs movie theater and didn’t return to the theater as promised. The next day her car was found abandoned beside a rural road outside Hot Springs. A search turned up no trace of Linda or any indication that a crime had been committed.

Her case was front-page news for days in the Hot Springs and Little Rock newspapers, for weeks in the former. Some other factors perhaps made it more newsworthy, but the basic facts are awfully similar.

Hopefully, John Glasgow’s disappearance will turn out happier and the resolution vindicates the Democrat-Gazette’s decision. Unfortunately, Linda’s remains were found on a mountain in Hot Spring County almost six months later, and the state medical examiner ruled her death a homicide. The case is still unsolved nearly 32 years later.

That was a time when we didn’t have the instant communications of today, the multiplicity of media or even organizations ready to help the families of crime victims. When we offered a reward (a much smaller one, of course), we depended on newspapers and a few broadcast organizations to get the word out.

Although we’d just as soon never had the notoriety, I remain convinced that the extensive and continuing press coverage, especially by the newspapers, kept her case alive during the six months in which there was no crime, just a missing adult. Those stories made sure the authorities didn’t file her case away as unsolved, and indeed they brought out information that was helpful, just not helpful enough.

Her story was interesting and important; so is John Glasgow’s.

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