I’ve been following this story — about a guy who was walking around Portland stoned and lost his leg to a train — pretty closely. Partly because I just think this sort of thing is awesome, but also because the fact that I think this sort of thing is awesome led to a correspondence with a guy on OkCupid last fall who mentioned in his profile that he’d recently lost his foot (and who was really, really cute). That correspondence led to having hot chocolate together (somewhat awkwardly, as he didn’t yet have his prosthetic) and that led to more hanging out, which led to my getting involved in a relationship with this gentleman. Canny readers (that is, the two of you who are not my boyfriend) might be tempted to speculate this is why I’m not here writing about my cats and bursting into tears at Dari-Mart all the time, but you can pretty much all go to hell.
My first question to my now-beau, because I’m super classy: OK, what the hell happened to your leg?
Turns out he was walking home from a friend’s CD release party, decided to take a detour on the railroad tracks, and he, too, had a disagreement with a train. THEY EVEN LOST THE EXACT SAME LEG. Yet his accident was not covered by every media outlet in town just about, plus Gawker! There wasn’t even a press release.
As A Journalist and a one-time PR hack, I’m always trying to figure out what drives particular stories. Why is one incident hot news and another, very similar, incident, not news? Sometimes the answers are easy: a little white girl gets taken out of her home by a stranger and the cable news networks can’t talk about anything else for an entire summer. A little black girl experiences a similar horror, and the media are like, whatever. Not to mention the tens of thousands of children who are abducted by family members every year (as opposed to the hundred or so stranger abductions). Is it that the rarity of these events makes them newsworthy, or that we’re more comfortable with an unknown enemy than a known one? I don’t have children, and this may be a good thing, because I can’t imagine having to impart the reality of violence on them: “Stranger Danger? Yeah, I…guess. There are some real jerks out there. But most people aren’t that interested in messing with kids they don’t know. It’s the people you already know and trust who are most likely to do horrible things to you. Statistically speaking. So keep an eye out for us. Kool-Aid?”
Because it’s been several years since I’ve been a thorn in the side of a cop tasked with distributing public information, and that used to be one of my favorite things to do, I decided to e-mail the cop whose name was listed on the press release and ask him what gives. I disclosed that I am a freelance reporter and some of the details of my gentleman friend’s accident (I didn’t call him my gentleman friend in the e-mail), but tried to emphasize that I was really just curious. It’s not like I think this represents some sort of blight and neglect on the part of the Portland Police Bureau or the local media. (I did ask my rather fair-skinned friend if he had actually lost his leg to black-on-violence and just made the train thing up to sound cool.) The PIO wrote back, “I don’t know why there wasn’t a press release about your friend’s accident.”
That made me think about getting back into PR, because I could definitely write e-mails saying, “I don’t know!” all day for the right amount of money.
(I jest. It was actually pretty nice of the guy to indulge what must have seemed to him to be a pretty weird e-mail.)
In this case, I’m not sure the discrepancy is so obvious, and I’m too close to the situation to trust my own judgment anyway. One answer is that the kid had just come back from a RAINBOW GATHERING (which got a ton of local media coverage for being a bit of a nightmare, and let’s face it, the Altamont narrative just never gets old) and was HIGH ON THE MARIJUANA and his CAT’S NAME IS GANJA (and she saw the accident, which must have been awful for her). Bryan, on the other hand, was walking home from an indie rock show and was drunk and his cat (who was not present) is named Analog. Perhaps “drunk hipster coming home from an indie rock show loses his leg to a train” IS pretty dog-bites-man, now that I think about it. BO-RING! Only Pitchfork commenters want to make fun of that shit.