Why does WEHOville hate Mayor John Duran? How dare WEHOville mention that Timothy Dean, the man who died in Ed Buck’s apartment, was a porn performer?
Why would WEHOville upset the friends and family of the young man found dead on the ground outside his Hacienda Place apartment, or the young man found dead on the ground in the courtyard of a building on North Orlando Avenue,
How can WEHOville publish an allegation of sexual misconduct by Jonathan Weedman, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, if it’s not willing to name his accuser?
These are the questions (and criticism) I’ve been getting over the past few months, questions and criticism that have escalated since the publication on Jan. 27 of a story alleging sexual misconduct by Weedman and Duran.
I welcome such questions, and criticism. That’s because they provoke me, as the publisher, editor of WEHOville (and sole full-time reporter), to ask those questions of myself to make sure I’m doing my job, and to fix any errors I might have made.
They also have inspired me to write this explanation of how journalism really works (and sometimes doesn’t work). That’s an explanation that’s sorely needed today, given the decline of real news organizations.
What is WEHOville?
First, some background on WEHOville. I founded this local news site in 2012, shortly after moving from the East Coast to Los Angeles. After years as a media business executive and consultant, I wanted to go back to my roots as a journalist covering local news, which I began doing at a weekly newspaper in North Carolina in 1973. I also wanted to provide a platform where residents of a city that I love can raise and discuss local issues and stay informed.
Virtually all of the stories published on WEHOville are written by me and carry the byline “staff.” No, that’s not because I’m trying to hide my identity. That’s because I’m an old-fashioned guy who shares the opinion of Adolph S. Ochs, the owner and publisher of The New York Times in the early years of the last century, who believed “bylines interfered with the impersonal nature of news and decreased the sense of institutional responsibility for an article’s content.” However, editorials (i.e. opinion pieces) written by me do carry my byline. That’s because the opinions are mine. Also, stories by freelance writers such as James Mills, Jon Ponder, David Warren, Michael Jortner and Bob Bishop carry their bylines, which is a way of thanking them for the contributions (for which they also are paid cash).
WEHOville is focused on a area that I describe as Greater WeHo, which means the City of West Hollywood, but also adjacent areas such as parts of Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard that most of us view as part of our town.
Does WEHOville Abide by Any Standards?
WEHOville, and I, abide by traditional journalistic standards. Those standards aren’t written in stone somewhere. After all, journalists aren’t professionals in the way lawyers or doctors are. You don’t have to pass an exam or get a degree to become a reporter.
However, if you have worked for legitimate news organizations you have learned the standards that they follow and that I follow. Among them:
— You ”give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” That is what Adolph S. Ochs in 1896 declared would be the mission of the then (really) failing New York Times, which he and his descendants have made one of the most powerful newspapers in the world by adhering to that principle.
That means WEHOville sometimes publishes stories that outrage some of my friends (who I hear from constantly via text messages that Adolph Ochs never had to deal with).
One friend was sued for $2 million for an alleged injury to one of his patients. WEHOville covered it. Other friends were on the board of a non-profit whose executive director was a self-confessed drug addict accused of misusing money. WEHOville covered that. Another friend works for, and loves, a bar whose patrons have accused it of injuring them and overcharging them. WEHOville covered that. The list goes on and on. It’s why journalists sometimes joke that the only friend a reporter can have is another reporter.
Why risk friendships, popularity, even dollars from angry advertisers who cancel their ads over stories they don’t like? Because the greatest asset that a news organization has to offer is honesty and credibility. That is an asset that takes time to build, and it is an asset I never want to damage.
Why Would WEHOville Report that Timothy Dean Did Porn?
Timothy Dean, who was found dead in Ed Buck’s apartment on Jan. 7, has been celebrated by his friends for his sense of style (he worked at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills), his love for basketball and his friendly and charming personality. Those are aspects of Timothy Dean that WEHOville has mentioned because Dean’s sad death was news, given its circumstances, and he deserved to be written about. But the fact that a newly baptized member of a Baptist religious group who was known for his charm and sense of style also performed in gay porn also is news. That says that Dean was, perhaps, a more complex person than some of his friends imagined.
WEHOville doesn’t routinely report the sexual behavior of anyone. However, when that behavior crosses conventional boundaries and also involves a person who has become prominent in the news, it is news and worth sharing with our readers.
Why Publish Photos of Dead Men on WEHOville?
As I wrote in an earlier opinion piece, I understand how painful it is for the friends and loved ones of people who have died to see photos of their dead bodies. However, the truth sometimes is news and sometimes does hurt.
WEHOville publishes photos only of people who are found dead in public places. We don’t publish photos of people who die in private places (e.g. inside their homes). Of course it’s always possible that exceptions will be made in unusual circumstances. And the photos we have published don’t reveal the faces of the people who have died.
WEHOville’s approach is a relatively common practice. Those who claim that legitimate news organizations never publish photos of people found dead need to take a look at “Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead,” by Jessica M. Fishman, which chronicles the continuing debate among journalists over when and whether to publish photos of the dead.
“Regardless of all the careful deliberations over pictures, the news media cannot escape controversy, which erupts frequently,” Fishman notes.
Why Publish an Anonymous Allegation Against Weedmen or Duran?
Why would WEHOville report the allegation against Jonathan Weedman without reporting the name of the young man who made the allegation? Isn’t that biased and unfair? How does WEHOville decide when to report such allegations?
WEHOville, like other legitimate news organizations, is reluctant to report allegations from people who don’t want their names used and thus aren’t willing to publicly stand by what they say. (And I do get a lot of them). But sometimes the statements are powerful because of what they allege, and who they are coming from, and who they are about. Even then, however, the statements must be validated in some way. WEHOville typically needs to find support or validation from at least three independent sources before publishing a story alleging illegal or criminal activity or ethically or morally dubious conduct.
WEHOville (i.e. me) has been looking into the allegation against Weedman for more than three months. It was first made in a series of anonymous letters mailed to WEHOville, which WEHOville shared with Mayor Duran, given his role as chair of the Gay Men’s Chorus. After several months, WEHOville was able to determine the identity of the young man who made the allegation (but wasn’t the one who mailed the letters) but wasn’t able to contact him. WEHOville did, however, call members of the GMCLA board of directors to inquire about the allegations and discovered that they were unaware of them. Those calls apparently prompted Duran to call WEHOville and acknowledge that the complaint had been made and was being investigated, and board members were informed of it.
Numerous other calls to other members of GMCLA led to WEHOville being able to reach out to the young man who made the allegation and to friends of his who confirmed that he had told them about the alleged incident a long time ago.
So, a young man alleges sexual misconduct by the leader of a prominent organization in the gay community. The mayor of West Hollywood, who is chair of the organization, confirms the allegation was made. And he confirms that GMCLA’s leadership took it seriously enough to hire someone to investigate it. That is news. Especially given that WEHOville was able to report Weedman’s side of the story as well.
Duran himself confirmed that it was alleged that he had inappropriately touched a young member of GMCLA, and that his allegation had been investigated. That there was such an allegation against the chair of the prominent non-profit who is the mayor of West Hollywood, confirmed by the mayor himself, was and is news. And WEHOville published Duran’s response to that as well. The Los Angeles Times soon published its own story, identifying three people who had made allegations and were willing to be named.
WEHOville has published a number of stories that the mayor says have upset him (we broke the story about the sex scandal at West Hollywood City Hall that came to be known as “Deputygate.”) Every one of those stories was based on fact and was worth publication because it involved an elected official of a city that WEHOville is supposed to cover (without fear or favor).
During each election, we have been accused by candidates on all sides of bias. That is the best place a journalist can find himself. If each side believes you favor the other, you’re doing your job.
Isn’t Your Publication All About Clicks?
Clickbait. That’s the label used (appropriately in most cases) to describe stories that readers view as so scandalous or gossipy that they will click on them to read them. Why do clicks matter? Because most large national websites charge their advertisers based on the size of their online audience and the number of clicks they get on their ads.
WEHOville has, on occasion, been accused of publishing stories that are “clickbait.” I admit I’m delighted that our audience has grown to as many as 80,000 monthly readers over the past seven years. But we don’t charge for advertising based on the number of readers who click on an ad or a story. Like most hyperlocal online news organizations, we charge a flat rate that can be negotiated.
That said, unlike most hyperlocal news organizations, we are happy to share our Google Analytics data so that our advertisers really know how many readers we have. Lying is not something a publication should be known for, although most local online publications do that according to independent analysis that we have paid for.
Why WEHOville Really Is a News Organization
Whether you love WEHOville or hate it, it is here to tell you what’s really happening in and around West Hollywood. The editor of the Beverly Hills Courier once explained to me that it doesn’t publish negative stories about local businesses, like the Beverly Hills Hotel when it was under attack because its Muslim owner supported Shariah laws calling for the stoning of gay people and the beating of women who had sex outside of marriage.
We do cover negative issues involving local businesses, if they are news. And we publish positive profiles of local businesses of note, like LASC and Marco’s, as part of our WeHo@Work series.
The publisher of the LA Blade once told me that he wouldn’t publish stories that will upset certain people, like members of the Christopher Street West board. And its news editor, Karen Ocamb, a long time friend of John Duran, wrote a very defensive story about the sexual misconduct allegations about him without revealing their relationship.
We do publish stories that will upset people, if they are news. And we also publish positive profiles, like in our “Grownups” series of those prominent older West Hollywood residents who are still active in civic affairs. If the news is about a friend in a controversial situation, I assign it to an independent outside writer. Also,we don’t offer news stories in exchange for advertising.
Love us or hate us, please feel free to share your ideas, suggestions and criticism. I may not agree, but I’ll always listen. And I’m passionate about correcting errors. You can reach me at [email protected] or at (323) 454-7707. Also you’re always free to post comments on WEHOville. Just make sure they are focused on the issues, not other commenters, and don’t contain libelous or obscene statements.
And if, by chance, you love WEHOville, click here to subscribe. You’ll get an update every morning at 7 a.m. of our latest stories. And you’ll help keep us going in an era where selling advertising to support news reporting is increasingly difficult.