New Mexican Directly Addresses Readers After Editor’s DWI Arrest

March 20th, 2015 · No Comments · journalism

By Denise Tessier

The Santa Fe New Mexican deserves credit for publishing a story last Thursday (March 12) about the arrest of its own editor on suspicion of drunken driving earlier that same day.

That it would follow the story with an opinion piece from the newspaper’s owner a week later (March 19) is even more noteworthy.

Owner Robin Martin’s direct address to readers showed a respect that would have been lacking had the paper ignored the incident on its editorial page, especially since the paper had decided Ray Rivera would remain editor.

In leading up to the revelation that Rivera would stay on, Martin’s piece reminded readers that The New Mexican has a history as “a leader in helping chronicle the devastating effects of drinking and driving on this state:”

Our coverage has been designed to foster change — better laws to deal with repeat offenders, prevention efforts that work and a strong focus on ways in which the system fails. Twice, in 2004 and 2007, the newspaper won national awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for its coverage of DWI-related issues.

And in the same paragraph, she added:

We do not condone getting behind the wheel under the influence.

After another paragraph remembering some of the high-profile DWI stories of the past, Martin then chronicled the change that has been fostered, writing:

Such coverage will — and must — continue. Because over the years, change has occurred. New Mexico is beating this crisis, making progress in what has seemed an intractable problem.

Drive-up liquor windows were shut down in the late 1990s. Ignition interlocks for convicted DWI offenders are commonplace. Repeat offenders face stiffer penalties, and many are screened for substance abuse problems. . .

Progress means lives saved. In 2013, the total number of alcohol-involved fatalities in New Mexico had decreased by 40 percent, to 132, from a peak of 225 in 2002.

And she added:

Rest assured, The New Mexican will be there to chronicle future progress and setbacks.

The address to readers closed with a paragraph saying, “More must be done,” followed by this:

The arrest last week of our editor, Ray Rivera, on a charge of aggravated DWI will not hinder or alter our dedication to this chronic issue one iota. Rivera apologizes to the community, to The New Mexican staff and to me for this situation. I appreciate his excellent work as editor of this newspaper, and he will remain a valued member of my staff.

The piece was signed, “Robin Martin.”

The day Martin’s piece appeared Rivera’s arrest was still the third “most read” story at the paper, and it had fostered several comments. The first person to comment said he was “saddened” to hear of the arrest. The next day, a reader wrote:

In my brief experience with Mr. Rivera, his professionalism was exemplary. I truly hope that he and the SFNM can work past this Human error.

Another reader agreed, writing:

In my dealings with Mr. Rivera he has shown nothing but professionalism and class. I, too, hope he and the paper can move forward together.

Having decided to keep Rivera on as editor of the paper, Martin recognized the need to directly inform readers about the newspaper’s’ position on DWI and its decision.

In doing so, Martin essentially passed on to the community an official apology from Rivera.

Directly addressing readers – and keeping them in the loop, rather than the dark – was the right thing to do.

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