Alibi V.17 No.49 • Dec 4-10, 2008 

Thin Line

Sing, Canary, Sing

The Alibi's classified ads have yet again made local TV news—and even An ad was calling all finks—criminals who need cash enough to rat out other criminals.

It read: "Wanted: People who hang out with crooks to do part time work for APD. Make some extra cash. Drug use and criminal record OK." (Whoever wrote that last sentence had to have done so with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It's hilarious.)

Publisher Carl Petersen says the first time he saw the ad, he pulled it from the paper before it went to press. "It had been scheduled through, so I had no way of knowing the ad had actually been placed by APD." Instead, he adds, if it were a criminal running the ad looking for rats, it could be a recipe for someone getting shot.

Happy Holidays, criminal pal. With some of my $700, I got you this set of bath soaps.

The undercover detective who placed the ad understood Petersen's hesitation and came into the office to show his badge. "It's legit," says Petersen. "To me, it still seems dangerous for the police, but danger is their business, I suppose."

If you call the number in the ad, you'll get an automated message asking for your name and number. Capt. Joe Hudson with the Albuquerque Police Department's special investigation team said they received 31 calls in the first two days. That's effective advertising.

Or is it just that Alibi readers are more likely to be rats? Or are they less likely to be rats, given that the ads reach about 150,000 readers and only 31 made the call? Data is still sketchy on this point.

If your info delivers a drug dealer, you could get $50. Good info on a murderer could reap up to $700. If informants have warrants hanging over their heads, they might be able to get off the hook for that as well, says Hudson.

So why not turn your buddies in? It's the perfect way to say "Happy Holidays, criminal pal. With some of my $700, I got you this set of bath soaps."

Stories about "The Poor"

The holiday season of feasting brings with it a deluge of stories about "The Poor," and this year's theme is that food banks and their ilk have been hit hard in this gasping economy. I don't object to these reports. Hell, I've written a few over the years myself.

But FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) makes an interesting point this week. Reporters are all about talking to who people feel the brutal effects of poverty, spotlighting their life stories and trials. But when it comes time to theorize on what can be done about it, journalists tend to talk to "academics, middle-class, well-to-do white men, policy exports [and] elected officials," writes Stephen Pimpare, author of A People's History of Poverty in America.

It's a great point marking a crucial distinction between exploitation and reporting. The gruesome tales ring more like titillating shock-fodder than honest-to-goodness news when interview subjects are only valuable for their suffering—not their knowledge.