You can still find a bridge over troubled muggings in Brooklyn
By Adrian Morrow
One of my favourite old newspaper traditions is the police blotter, a series of short write-ups of crimes not important enough to merit a full article but too interesting to ignore. It dates back to the days when newspapers were a community's only source of information and everything had to be squeezed in.
In the Radio Room, we try to keep the tradition alive by filling a column of briefs in the Greater Toronto section every day, often with stories of small crimes. The Toronto Police help us out by sending us a list of incidents that haven't received their own press release. They call it the "Major News Reports", or the Majors. (As if in salute to the old-school nature of this enterprise, it's the only thing the cops send the Radio Room exclusively by fax.)
The crimes listed in the Majors range from the routine (robberies of convenience stores are almost a nightly occurence in the city), to the bizarre (last spring, two muggers robbed a man of his clothes, leaving him sitting in socks and underwear on a chilly April night) to the terrifyingly whimsical (two Halloweens ago, a gang of girls sporting Venetian-style masks committed a string of late-night robberies at suburban bus stops).
The public will never hear about most of them. But every once in a while, when there's a little extra space to fill, we mine this list to find something newsworthy.
About a year ago, Nick van Rijn (a veteran Star editor and re-write man) told me about a weekly paper in Brooklyn that still runs a lengthy crime blotter, complete with Runyonesque turns of phrase and neo-noir headlines (recent examples include "Bridge over troubled mugging" and "More thefts of iThings).
According to a write-up in the New York Times, the paper's reporters even go about collecting these items in the oldest-fashioned way possible, visiting every police station in person and poring over stacks of field reports. It's worth a read.Adrian Morrow is a veteran of the Star's radio room. He also worked as a summer reporter last year. firstname.lastname@example.org