Once upon a time in America, the information business was more like science than religion. No matter whether writers were in public relations or journalism, accuracy was judged on evidence not mere belief.
Sometimes the evidence was cherry-picked. Sometimes (possibly often) important points were left out.
But if, for instance, the local police department suggested a theft happened recently in the city where you live, you could rest assured a theft had happened recently in the city where you lived because the police knew.
The police kept records, and if the police reported the theft of a $40,000, diamond-studded watch, they knew exactly where and when it was stolen and from whom.
“If someone walks up to you in a bar, restaurant, wherever – and flashes a smile or bats their eyelashes at you – do NOT invite them back to your hotel room for a… romantic encounter,” APD posted on its Facebook page on Aug. 1. “Because when you leave them unattended while you use the bathroom, that person will disappear with your $40,000 Rolex watch. And they’ll leave behind a business card with a phony name and number on it with a tagline that reads ‘Adventures of Fun.'”
Did this actually happen?
“The watch situation, I believe, is an old report from a while back,” APD spokesman MJ Thim messaged Monday. Here’s his complete response coming after a week of requests to Thim, Kendra Doshier and Renee Oistad of APD’s public affairs department asking for the police report on the great Rolex heist:
“Sorry about the delay. Renee and Kendra were out (Renee still is). I thought we got back to you.
“The post is about a few situations officers encountered over the years. The watch situation I believe is an old report from a while back. No charges were filed. I don’t have any more details.”
Sometime, somewhere in Anchorage, the chief of public information for the APD believes a $40,000 watch was stolen but he doesn’t have any details, although someone somehow remembers the thief left behind a “business card with a phony name and number on it with a tagline that reads ‘Adventures of Fun.'”
And based on belief and memory, APD – which is trying to move crime news coverage away from the mainstream media onto the Facebook and Nixle sites it controls – reported a stolen, $40,000 Rolex.
In the old days if APD did this, it might have had to put up with a troublesome reporter like the Anchorage Daily News’ long-gone Don Hunter asking, “Now would that be $40,000 in 2018 currency or older dollars? Because if this old encounter happened in say 2008, the value of the $40,000 watch would today be $47,752.32, according to the online inflation calculator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
Or maybe he might have asked this:
“So if this is about a ‘few situations officers encountered over the years’ about which no details are known, is it possible some of these situations occurred somewhere other than in Anchorage and new officers brought stories north with them when they joined the force?
“Could one of these officers have just come from Miami, where a woman stole a valuable Rolex after picking a man up in June, or maybe New Orleans where the same thing happened in 2015, or New York (2017), or Miami again in 2015, or could the officer have just watched Sin City ER and decided that Rolex situation might make a good Facebook warning for Anchorage?”
Facts, not beliefs
All of the above stories, it should be noted, did make the news when they happened. Google “man asleep Rolex stolen,” and you’ll find plenty more. Rolex thefts are apparently so common in Florida that Tanya Alanez, a reporter at the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale started a story this way:
“Yet another so-called Rolex girl landed in a Broward jail cell this week on suspicion of swiping a luxury watch and diamond jewelry valued at more than $40,000 from a sleeping man in a Hollywood hotel room.”
Stolen Rolex reports make news across the country for the same reason the story of a stolen Rolex, no matter how old, made the APD Facebook page. The stories are titillating. In the old days, the media would have called them newsworthy.
“Click bait” is the modern and more accurate term.
And if the man bit the dog a year ago or 10 years ago, and it is reported today as if it just happened, what is this called in the new paradigm? Is it old news new, or is it “fake news,” which is really no more than news with an effing adjective, or is it something else.
Which brings up an another interesting question.
If this heist happened in Anchorage this tourist season, why did it only get reported on the APD Facebook page? Why didn’t the mainstream media, which is all over the supposed uptick in crime in Alaska’s largest city, cover the sort of theft so many other reporters find interesting for its man-bites-dog quality?
Did the story fail to meet somem new and higher standards of what is newsworthy, or did reporters miss it because there was no government handout issued? Journalists, this one included, have largely turned into a bunch of handout queens and kings, who wait for the news to be given to them instead of going out to look for it.
So that’s always a possibility.
Or could it be Thim, a former KTUU-TV reporter fairly new at the job of APD minister of information, forgot a story previously reported in Anchorage? Then again, maybe not.
Googling “Man asleep Rolex stolen Anchorage” brings up only the story written here at craigmedred.news days ago about the watch being reported stolen by APD with no police report yet available. It would now appear unclear whether there is a police report at all.
Other cities, for unknown reasons, seem a lot more forthcoming about information on stolen Rolex watches.
Google “man asleep Rolex stolen Minneapolis,” and up pops a 2008 story headlined “GOP delegate’s hotel tryst goes bad when he wakes up with $120,000 missing.”
The story below reports a $30,000 watch among the missing goods, and quotes the Minneapolis Police Chief saying such incident was “very, very rare.” Rare in Minneapolis maybe, but not so rare nationally. A cursory search finds stories about women snatching Rolex watches from men in Palo Alto, Calif. (a homeless man no less); Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix; Cleveland; and Coral Gables, Fla.
Inside Edition, the TV show, even did a 2016 “investigative” story reporting “cops say it’s a scam victimizing hundreds of men across the country; beautiful flirty women stealing Rolex watches from men they meet in bars and nightclubs.”
New York, New Orleans and Florida appear to be the Rolex-robbing hotspots.
Nowhere is there a mention of the scam spreading to Alaska, though it no doubt could. Widening a Google search to look for “man asleep watch stolen Alaska” brings up nothing but, for whatever reason, a story about a squirrel “stealing” a donut left on the pavement in the parking lot at APD, a “news” story that started as an APD Facebook post and went viral.
This is APD’s goal.
As Doshier, the new deputy communications director with APD, put it back in April, “a large focus of mine is on social media content and engagement strategy. As I’ve become more acquainted with the department’s vision, goals, and relationship with the community, I’ve been able to develop a thoughtful strategy for how we can curate our content for social media, manage our Nixle alerts, communicate effectively with our community, and strategize between platforms. It’s a bit of an undertaking, but we have a great community, we have a solid, active follower base, and we have good blueprints to build from. I’m excited with what we’ve been able to accomplish so far and I understand that this can be a learning process. So, that’s a bit about what I do.”
All of that gobbledygook can be boiled down to this:
Doshier’s job is to make APD’s Facebook and Nixle pages the go-to sites for APD news. APD can’t do that by a simply maintaining a rolling blog of blotter items listing all the crimes in Anchorage.
Thus you get the light-hearted features of APD officers lip synching, and Facebook’s What Not To Do Wednesday (WNTDW) highlighting crimes that happened once upon a time in Anchorage as if they happened yesterday or last month, if they happened and aren’t just what someone believes happened.
Memories are notoriously bad. It’s why policemen, like reporters, take notes and write reports. It’s to maintain a history. There’s nothing wrong with retreating to history to look for lessons of value today, either – if you’re honest about what you’re doing.
Things do get a little stickier, however, when you start depending on what someone believes happened instead of what has been documented. Some people still believe the earth is flat.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of this if you think government-run media – and that’s where APD is heading – a good thing.
Some don’t. Certainly the country’s Founding Fathers didn’t. But times change.
Guilt and innocence
Only two years ago, the Alaska Press Club recognized University of Alaska Fairbanks professor of journalism Brian O’Donoghue for his 14-year-long investigation into the incarceration of the Fairbanks Four – a group of once-young men wrongly imprisoned for 18 years for the 1997 murder of John Hartmann.
He got an award; it was a big deal. Freeing people from jail is a major journalistic coup. O’Donoghue actually deserved more attention than he received. A lot more attention. But totally lost in the tiny bit of hullabaloo around the Fairbanks Four was what should have been the most important lesson for other journalists.
Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, George Frese and Kevin Pease might have avoided those 18 years in jail if some journalists had done their jobs, if some journalists had asked tough questions from the beginning about a murder case full of holes.
The idea journalists should ask tough questions of those in authority has been fading for a long time. I now know multiple reporters reprimanded for asking questions. And the situation is only getting worse by the day with government agencies now “reporting” on themselves.
The ADN, the state’s largest newspaper and the only serious news organization of any size left in the 49th state, is still struggling to survive, and while it might not recognize that it is now in competition with APD and a lot of other government-produced defacto news sites, it is.
It is in serious competition.
It’s awfully easy to buy into the idea that APD is telling you everything you need to know about crime in Anchorage via Nixle and Facebook. I confess I’ve largely bought in. APD delivers a lot of information throughout the day for free.
Why does anyone need to spend money on a newspaper or any other journalism to fund some reporter checking police files in case there is something there the police department might not want the citizenry to know?
Because if there are things we need to know, surely we can count on government to tell us.