Thursday, November 18, 2010

Simple crime story gives editor stinkfoot

In "Man arrested on charges of fraudulent use of a city credit card" we hear about a former City employee getting busted for unauthorized use of a City credit card, either retained in his possession for over a year after he left City employ, or lifted while he was working there. No big deal, perfectly legitimate story. But then the editor stepped in it.

Unable to resist the rhythms of City credit-card causing trouble for two people sharing a common Mexican surname, the reporter asked Prescott PD whether the alleged perp in this story is related to Dawn Castaneda of Elks Theatre fame, and the cop confirmed that he's her brother-in-law.

Smelling news-value blood, the editor overcame good sense and journalistic practice and allowed the impertinent connection into the story. That's bad to start, as it's prejudicial to both cases and there's no connection between them. But then the comments came rolling in, and it seems that the brother-in-law thing is just wrong.

Yes, Arthur Castaneda and Dawn's husband Gabriel are from the same large Prescott family, but, say apparently authoritative commenters, related as cousins rather than siblings. It's a stupid goof-up that the reporter or the editor could have averted with one phone call.

But the lesson the editor (Steve?) should take away is this: work harder to separate the pertinent factors from the prurient ones, and blue-pencil the latter. They have no place in responsible journalism.

And rather than waste ink this way, I'd have had that reporter asking sharp and persistent questions of Mr Castaneda's former supervisors about how that card got away from them. That's where the public interest truly lies.

Answer the question, Tim!

The latest entry in the Ask the Editors web feature starts, "I'd like to know who owns the Elks building on Gurley Street, and the business." Tim responds "The City of Prescott owns the building and runs the business side. (To clarify, the city owns the Opera House portion and a law firm owns the office space above the Opera House.) The Elks Opera House Foundation is a fund-raising organization that hopes one day to buy the theater from the city."

This is wrong in several ways. The questioner clearly knows more about the situation than Tim does. The Elks Building is the office structure on Gurley St with Bill the Elk on top. The Elks Theatre* is on the alley behind the Elks Building, with a condominium wall and an easement through the first floor of the Elks Building for the lobby. The building is not "above" the theatre in any way.

The direct answer to the question is this: The Elks Building has been owned for many years by the partners in the law firm Murphy, Schmitt, Hathaway and Wilson via the shell corporation Prescott Elks Building LLC.

The Elks Opera House Foundation has nothing to do with owning the building or the theatre.

This is all perfectly public information. One has to wonder why Tim would feel the need to obfuscate so completely in his answer.

*: Is not, never has been and never could be an opera house.