He was doing work experience at a newspaper in Birmingham and had been sent to gather details of a burglary at an apartment block in the city. He found the flat, introduced himself to the tenant, interviewed her about the break-in and headed back to base.
The editor asks him about the robbery. David – for that was his name – replies that it doesn’t really amount to much of a story. The burglar had looked through the apartment window and seen the tell-tale flashing light of a video recorder (as rare then as now, but way more desirable). He forced the door and nicked it. The tenant came home to find her door open and the VCR gone.
That’s it? asks the editor. That’s it, says David. That’s not good enough, says the ed. So David is sent back to the tower block with a list of questions to ask the residents. The elderly female residents, preferably.
Questions like: Do you worry about being burgled and your flat turned upside down? Are you anxious about coming home late at night on your own? Does the sight of groups of youths scare you? To which the answers were inevitably yes, yes and yes.
Now there was a story. It was about far, far more than a one-off opportunistic theft. I can’t remember if it made it to the front page or not, but I do remember David telling me the headline they came up with.
Flats of fear
Remember, variations of this happen every day, in everything from whatever’s left of local papers to the national dailies. They’re not happy unless we’re scared.