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I passed three police cars stopped in the 1100 block of Felspar Street on the afternoon of January 5. I parked my car and as I walked toward them, two of the cars drove away. I asked the remaining officer, who was seated in the passenger side of his vehicle, what had happened.

“Stolen car,” he said about the white, two-door Toyota Solara.

“So, you were out doing your usual ticketing and just found it here?”

“I was just out waving at citizens and helping little old ladies cross the street,” joked SDPD officer Nick Minx. I asked Minx how he learned the vehicle was a stolen one.

“The rear window was broken,” he said. “I ran the plates. When you see a car with a heavy layer of dirt — dew lines running down through it — there’s a good chance that when you run the plates it’s stolen.”

When I asked Minx what would happen to the car, he stated that the SDPD would attempt to locate the owner. If the car is not drivable, it would be kept in a secured lot until the owner could arrange to come and get it.

“How often would you say cars get stolen in PB?” I asked.

“Hard to say...I don’t have the statistics...but more than you’d think. I see this sort of thing all the time...especially in Mission Beach.”

I thanked Officer Minx for his time, and as he shook my hand, he said, “Day-in, day-out,” then paused before he continued, “wait, how do they say that...oh, yeah... “all in a day’s work.”

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Comments

BigBadWolf Jan. 8, 2010 @ 3:20 a.m.

Does this story have a point?

Cars stolen in PB and Mission Beach are recovered elsewhere. Cars recovered in PB and MB are cars reported stolen by drunks who forgot where they parked. The rear window was probably broken because the drunk left his laptop in the car and a burglar wanted it.

SDPD should charge a recovery fee for found stolen vehicles. This fee could help fund needed units like the Mission Bay Harbor Police Unit.

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poff Jan. 8, 2010 @ 7:21 a.m.

In response to comment #1: SDPD, CHP, SD Sheriff, etc all charge a fee on impounded cars. When you go to the impound yard there is a break down of the towing charge on the wall including the cut that goes to the law enforcement agency who impounded the car. The fee is different for each agency. I am a fan of abstract Reader articles but I have to agree, "What is the point of this article?"

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bangkokthaibistro Jan. 8, 2010 @ 8:10 a.m.

sdpd will shoot you if you carry gun around..in other words, no guns period.

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carolyngrace1111 Jan. 8, 2010 @ 8:44 a.m.

Hey Guys,

It's news! Just keeping you informed about the events happening in your neighborhood. Facts. Quotes. In, ideally, 250 words or less. This is not the Aesop's Fables website you know. ;)

Carolyn

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PistolPete Jan. 8, 2010 @ 10:02 a.m.

LULZ! I think the same thing everytime one of these Stringers articles pops up but Carolyn DOES have a point. You want news? Buy a newspaper. You want fluff? Grab the Reader. ;-D

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carolyngrace1111 Jan. 8, 2010 @ 12:58 p.m.

Hello again cowboys,

What's interesting is how ya'll complain, but ya'll keep comin' back fer more!... ;)

Carolyn

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Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 8, 2010 @ 2:57 p.m.

Not that anyone asked me, but this IS at least PART of a news report. If this stringer had followed up with the officer on the resolution of this case, and THEN told the entire account (still in 250 to 300 words), THEN you'd have a Reader report. By a potential Reader reporter.

The initiative and instinct to interview the cop upon seeing the scene was a perfect startup effort - however, it was premature to report until there was something TO report. When you only have the beginning, it's no more than fodder for the police log ("Jes the facts, m'am"). When you acquire/uncover the middle and (ideally) the END of the story, THEN you have a news report.

Free advice from the staff (because this IS a very good start for a story - it takes a reporter's constitution to walk up cold to a cop on duty and interrogate!! Good work)

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Fred Williams Jan. 8, 2010 @ 9:41 p.m.

I agree with Jay. Carolyn's got guts (and the constitution, something about the first amendment maybe?) to walk up and ask questions.

Plus, the information about how they identify "suspicious" cars is interesting.

Following up might have taken several hours of leg work, calls, frustration, and still resulted in nothing. It would have been nice, but I don't really expect polished journalism from stringers.

Give Carolyn a break. She's giving it a try. According to a recent jobs survey, being a reporter is one of the worst jobs in America. You can see why. Lot's of work, often quite unpleasant, for a pittance in pay, which leads to everyone with a laptop telling you how much you suck.

I couldn't do it.

Best,

Fred

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Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 9, 2010 @ 12:12 a.m.

Followup need not take "several hours of leg work, calls, frustration" - SDPD has a press spokesperson with the scoop on what can and can't be told to inquiring press about any given case, whether a day old or years old (Dave Cohen, last time I called). Usually takes just two short calls - one to log your inquiry, and then they get back to you with whatever they're allowed to say. The FIRST time you call, you may have to jump thru a few identification hoops - pointing to your Stringer blog on the Reader site may or may not help.

The speediest course thru such an endeavor would entail asking that officer-on-the-scene for the case number off the report he was filling out. THAT's usually the hardest part, and seems like this stringer finessed her constable encounter well enough to find him helpful ---

I usually charge for consultation but, again, this stringer report shows much promise. Fred is right about the insight we get into how cops (this cop anyway) identify suspicious cars. In fact, that would be a great "lead" to open a writeup with - once you have a closing to finish with.

To finish doesn't necessarily mean "case solved, so-and-so is in jail" - could instead be a pithy quote from the victim named in the report.

Or actual factual statistics about vehicle-related crime in that neighborhood, especially on that street block.

Or ask another cop in the area about ways the residents can lessen their own risk of being victimized.

Or walk into the nearest bar and ask if anyone has ever had their car stolen nearby, interviewing anyone who says "yeah" (they're in a bar, they're gonna be thrilled to tell you all about it).

'Kay, school's out - lock the door when you leave ---

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David Dodd Jan. 9, 2010 @ 5:31 a.m.

There are various "schools" of journalistic attitude, mine being the old-fashioned 5 W's and H (who, what, where, when, why, and how). But the thing about the Reader is the quirkiness, I mean where else are you going to see a news report written in first person?

The main thing is this: Remain neutral and skeptical, and try to get as much information as you can. The car color was missing, along with the year of manufacture. The time in the afternoon, along with weather conditions. Any bystanders? Was it a nice neighborhood or a seedy one?

The writer will never use all of the information, but the ability to get all of it separates a good reporter from an average reporter.

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Fred Williams Jan. 9, 2010 @ 11:13 p.m.

Jay, that was a very generous comment. It's good to see an old hand helping out and giving advice to the newbie.

As I wrote before, journalism is a hard way to make a living. Yet it is essential to a properly functioning democracy.

It's interesting that you describe how the police decide who is or is not a "legitimate" reporter. I guess this means that an average person who is just curious about a case can suck eggs.

Carolyn shows promise. Most of all, she's willing to stop, get out of her car, approach a police officer, and ask questions. Some of these San Diego cops could automatically get agressive, demand identification, and treat the questioner as a criminal suspect.

So if Carolyn has the knack of getting paranoid cops to actually talk to her, she's already made a good start. An experienced editor can help her take care of the rest. She's fortunate to have you, Jay, give her the advice she needs to do better in the future.

Best,

fred

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carolyngrace1111 Jan. 10, 2010 @ 12:13 p.m.

Hey Everyone,

Thank you for all your comments, constructive criticisms and advice. I appreciate your feedback...a free education during these challenging economic times (Jay) is a great gift!

I'm an artist and creative writer and have just completed the first book in a YA Fantasy Novel Series. In the writing of 'news',(or the attempting to) I find myself treading in unfamiliar territory. But,I do enjoy it...getting out there and meeting all these interesting people...and so, I've decided to give it a shot as a 'neighborhood stringer'.

With regards to 'follow-up' and obtaining the 'complete' story...I feel pressured to submit a story ASAP...so that's it's current and not already 'old news'. What I'm hearing in your comments is that sometimes it's ok to put a story on the back burner for a few days in order to get a more complete story. But, how long do I wait before I tell you about the stolen car? Will the Reader post a story that's two or three days old?

Well, your feedback is greatly appreciated and will, hopefully, help me to hone my skills in this new arena!

P.S. Dear Refriedgringo...the color of the car IS included in the first quote of the article. The officer 'estimated' the YEAR of the car at 'early 2000' and that quote, in addition to the plate number, was edited out, with what I can only assume was 'good reason'.

Respectfully, Carolyn Grace Matteo

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David Dodd Jan. 10, 2010 @ 12:28 p.m.

Carolyn,

I missed the car color, but really I was stating a general attitude about journalism in particular. Many, many years ago I wrote for a newspaper and those guidelines were hammered into our skulls. Basically, it is easier to throw out information than to attempt to gather it after the fact.

And congrats on finishing your first novel, much success!

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Marcieanna302 Jan. 10, 2010 @ 4:31 p.m.

I happen to love the writing style of ms. Matteo. I am not from California however I came accross this site and found Ms. Matteos articles very interesting. I am from the East Coast and I am amazed at all the trivial nitpicking that I am seeing on this comment section. I truely am starting to wonder who these derogatory comments are coming from????

Pam A.

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Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 11, 2010 @ 8:25 a.m.

RE #12 - timeliness IS a major hurdle for weekly pubs like the Reader. I probably "lose" at least a dozen stories a year that were greenlit, written, submitted, and slated for the print edition, when they got killed due to another pub getting a definitive report in print before we could. It's even harder now with so many bloggers also on the local newsbeat.

Stringer reports aren't held to exclusivity preferences, but certainly being the first person in the door to get something otherwise unreported onto the website is as plus. The ability to do daily reporting, and even "live" blogging from events like Comic-Con, is one of the greatest things about how newsgathering and reporting has mainly moved to the internet.

That said, tho, you'll probably note that the stringer reports that end up in the paper itself are a bit more beginning/middle/end than this account. A story like this need not ripen for "two or three days" - there are a bunch of things you can do in an hour or less to fill out a story like this. If it was MY report and I wanted the speediest finish for a "scoop," a few minutes poking around the county assessor's site for crime statistics in that neighborhood would probably yield a solid 'graph that wouldn't even require a phone call. Take out a few sentences from what you have, replace with a certified and applicable statistic, and you've got something that feels far more meal than snack - there are any number of other alternatives that may take a bit of effort, but probably not a lot of time.

An even better (and less clinical) approach (albeit one that wouldn't work many places outside the Reader) would be to tell us about a time YOUR car was stolen. Or that you found a stolen car. Or that a high school friend was arrested for car theft, or your dad taught you to hotwire a Porsche - anything in your own life and experience that you make applicable to the matter at hand.

That approach works here because, as someone else commented, the Reader is a different animal than most - it's unusual to find so much first person reporting and "journalism with an agenda" outside of columnists' soapboxes. But that's a big part (IMO) of this paper's appeal.

Something like 13 or 14 years ago, when I was first doing Reader articles, the publisher gave me a rule of thumb that has rarely failed me. You'll find this Reader "rule" evident in everything from City Lights to the staff blogs, reviews, Blurt, and even I think in the letters-to-the-editor the paper chooses to publish each week.

He said "Our job isn't necessarily to inform, nor even to entertain, but rather to ENGAGE."

It may not be journalism 101 (it's almost the antithesis of what reporters learn about keeping themselves and their POV OUT of their writing), but the best and busiest Reader writers seem to be the ones you feel you KNOW, just from reading their stories.

Even the ones you know well enough to dislike ----

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CuddleFish Jan. 11, 2010 @ 9:01 a.m.

Ah! Yes, just as I suspected. Engage at all costs ....

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carolyngrace1111 Jan. 11, 2010 @ 1:06 p.m.

Jay,

Thanks again...appreciate your time, energy & wisdom...my journalistic guru! (Actually, I have 2 now, you & Robert ;)

Carolyn

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