By now, you've probably heard the story from one source or another: On Jan. 28, John Glasgow, the chief financial officer of Little Rock's CDI Contractors, drove away from his home on South Lookout and hasn't been seen since.
Though his family now says it's impossible to determine when they were written, a bank account number and the code for a personal safe were found jotted on a notepad in the house. Glasgow's Volvo SUV — with his computer, cell phone and bank card inside — appeared the next day around noon in the parking lot at Mather Lodge on Petit Jean Mountain, apparently wiped free of fingerprints. Since then, search and rescue teams have combed the mountain on foot, by horseback, by air and with trained dogs, but have found nothing. The family held a press conference last week to announce that the reward for information leading to his whereabouts had been upped to $70,000 and to reveal that it looks as though “evidence points away from the mountain,” and that the family no longer believes Glasgow was ever on Petit Jean.
While that kind of mystery seems like just the kind of thing local audiences would heartily devour — local and national television media and publications like Arkansas Business seem to think so, and have devoted heavy coverage to new leads in the case — the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has conspicuously kept the story at arm's length. The D-G took the unusual step of publishing its coverage of Glasgow's disappearance only online at the paper's website. The first article on Glasgow's disappearance to make the print D-G didn't run until Feb. 4, and then was buried on page 5B. The next mention was on Feb. 14, a small squib on the reward that reported none of the other revelations from the press conference or even that a press conference was held. Glasgow's photograph, which the family has been all but begging local news outlets to circulate, has yet to appear in the paper in connection to the disappearance.
Democrat-Gazette deputy editor Frank Fellone said the paper has learned from experience that missing person cases “can be tricky” because not every missing person case involves foul play or kidnapping. While he doesn't assume anything about the Glasgow disappearance, Fellone said, sometimes people just want to get lost. An analogy, he said, can be found in the explosion of “missing teen-ager” coverage on cable news networks. If the paper devotes a large amount of space to Glasgow's disappearance, then won't they be obligated to do the same for the hundreds of people who go missing in Arkansas every year?
“A lot of times, kids just run away from home,” Fellone said. “And honestly, a lot of times, adults run away from home. Someday this particular story may have an ending, but we go back to the idea that the news organization has to be careful. … The assumption that there has to be foul play is sometimes not realized.”
Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, said that the current cable news obsession with missing person cases isn't really about news anymore. “People follow it for the same reason they slow down at accidents on the highway,” he said. “It just gets to be entertainment more than anything and really has no news value absent any breaks in the case.”
Larimer said every paper has different criteria for what elevates a disappearance to the level of news. As with anything, Larimer said, the amount of coverage devoted to a disappearance is up to the paper's editors and what they consider news. Apparently, Arkansas Business, CNN and other news outlets have considered it newsworthy that the chief financial officer of one of Arkansas's biggest building contractors, an executive who was in the process of trying to become part owner in the company, has disappeared.
There have been rumors that the D-G has limited its coverage of the Glasgow disappearance to keep from offending one of its major advertisers, Dillard's department stores. The Dillard family is half-owner of CDI. The Dillard clan is famously uncommunicative with the media about internal affairs, and has curtailed and killed advertising contracts with publications that print news it deems unfavorable.
Fellone said he didn't know that the Dillard family was an investor in CDI. He added that in his experience, advertisers have little influence over what runs in the Democrat-Gazette.