"I want to hurt whoever did this."
Those words were spoken by Independent publisher Matt Gibson on Wednesday morning. The office, we had discovered, had been robbed sometime in the pre-dawn hours while most of the staff slept a hearty sleep following the Santana rock concert at Caras Park. For a few hours, it seemed that Carlos' message of love and brotherhood would be enough to forget about the increasing problem of crime in Missoula.
It's not often that a reporter is faced with writing about a crime committed against the newspaper he works for. In recent months, the ethics of certain journalists have been held up to the light following some embarrassing cases of made-up sources and the like-but even so, ideas about professional integrity are a lot more slippery than those about property.
Matt's words echoed in my mind for much of the day-I too wanted to see the thieves severely punished.
Remarkably, the fact of the matter is that the question of property in this case overlaps with some serious concerns about what sort of information was also taken when a pair of computers were lifted from the office. Though the loss of the machines didn't prompt a total meltdown here (you're holding this paper, aren't you?) the data collected-ranging from personal correspondence to digitized versions of dozens of photos used in the paper over recent weeks-on our hard drives makes them more valuable than any money that could be garnered on the street for the computers.
So before I go further, if you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the computers that vanished sometime between Tuesday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday at 8 a.m., consider whether you want to take the rap for stealing such important stuff. We're offering $500 for the return of our software and data files.
The staff here, a resiliant bunch, continues to work through its responses. But there's not a one of us who isn't feeling a little violated by the crime. Adding to our anger is the fact that in the past few months, a bike has been lifted from the rack outside our office, a staff member was jumped by a hoodlum and his girlfriend while leaving the building one night, and this Tuesday, our neighbors at Kent Bros. Auto had flower pots smashed by some inconsiderate revellers.
All of this is the sort of garbage people around here claim should never happen, because Missoula's such a friendly, small town. Well, it's changing, ain't it?
Ironically, this column was originally going to concern itself with the flap over the concerts at Caras Park, which prompted a city council member to brand local promoters fascists for wanting to block off a right-of-way. (I agreed with him to a certain extent.)
Following the B.B. King show in late May, the promoters decided they needed to do something about freeloaders on the bridge-folks essentially "stealing" music from a venue where they were charging for the right to enjoy the show. Though they dressed the issue up in the clothes of public safety, I think most figured out they were worried mostly about the bottom line. (I also believe that Bravo Productions has a right to protect its investment.)
On Tuesday, I saw one of the Bravo staffers who complained that people had shredded the black plastic hanging on the Higgins Avenue Bridge. He shook his head, and muttered about "this town," and when I offered that it couldn't be hurting ticket sales-the Santana show sold out-he simply said, "I hope nobody throws any bottles."
At the end of the evening, on my way home, I figured this was paranoia stemming from the public safety posture taken earlier in the summer. But when I showed up to discover the office had been broken into, I wasn't so sure.