Friday
October 31, 2014

In the Herald newsroom

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First-hand experiences

Crime is a favourite topic of discussions for politicians and the public at large in the country, with the word inseguridad having become a fixture in electoral campaigns and everyday conversation. In the Herald, all that talk has been hitting home, with around 30 percent of the staff having been a victim of crime in one shape or form over the past year from the extremely violent to the petty.

“I would be careful if I were you. People steal in this area. That’s what I do, but not tonight.”

The friendly warning from an off-and-on-again good samaritan, received by a member of the Herald’s staff as she was leaving the paper late at night, is one of the most light-hearted of the crime-linked “war stories” making the rounds in the newsroom.

In the last year, only the sports section has the enviable honour of not having suffered a single criminal incident. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the national-news section, where 70 percent of the team (all but two people) have either been bamboozled, persuaded to hand over their belongings by a large group or at gunpoint or worse. Seems like an occupational hazard.

The range and variety of the nature of crimes has made it impossible — thankfully, perhaps — to find a common pattern, except for the fact that cellphones seem to be the favoured plunder. The location, timing, and nature of the crime has been so varied that for now, nobody can draw any conclusions about what it all means.

One of the most recent incidents involved the national-news editor, who took a pistol-whipping to the head as he was coming home from the paper. Two young assailants — who appeared high and seemed more nervous than he ever was — surprised him as he was coming off the 130 bus late on a Wednesday night in Recoleta, striking him first and then demanding his phone in a brief but nonetheless distressing exchange.

A gun was also used in a mugging in the Olivos district against another member of the local news section, surprised along with his girlfriend by a single mugger on a quiet side street late at night. This time, as before, it was past midnight — hinting at a possible explanation for the spate of crime.

But it’s never that simple.

The single most traumatic incident involved a home invasion, five to six criminals, weapons (including a hunting rifle) and the infamous “entradera” technique — taking advantage of the arrival of the victim to rush the door and gain entry to a building. On this occasion a Herald local-news journalist was coming home from a birthday celebration when she was forced into her own home. Cellphones, laptops and a sense of security were all taken that night. Most notably, this is the only case in the newsroom that involved a halfway successful investigation. A gang was eventually apprehended by the Buenos Aires provincial police but they were later released because it couldn’t be proven that they were responsible — most of the time it’s not even worth making an official police complaint.

Robberies haven’t happened exclusively at night either. Far from the newsroom and in broad daylight, a jog in the Bosques de Palermo went sour for a Herald staff writer in the international news section as she was accosted by three youths who demanded she fork over her money. The arrival of a separate group of runners scattered the youths.

There have also been crimes of opportunity — game days at the Bombonera are accompanied by a stream of fans trying to make their way home. As is common at sporting events around the world, the large and chaotic crowds of people make for a great opportunity for petty theft. Threatened by a posse of hooligans, a Herald journalist quickly understood it made sense to hand over his wallet. It didn’t matter if he was on the 152 bus when it happened — everyone else on the bus was either celebrating or minding their business. Another journalist had his bag snatched from under him by a group of robbers who managed to distract him for a split second while a graphic designer had robbers break into his apartment while he wasn’t there and stole valuables.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, “I laugh because I must not cry.” Nobody in the Herald newsroom has the faintest clue what Lincoln was referring to but in the last year the phrase — or versions of it — has become commonplace as one by one staff have been affected by crime. Nonetheless, and although nobody has been physically harmed, the violent cases have somehow been harder to laugh off.

— Herald staff

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