Monday, August 20, 2007

Bankers, hookers and opportunities

In the early 1970s I patrolled the Anchorage demimonde for the Daily News, a rookie cop reporter with romantic notions and limitless ambition. Probably the tired, frontier hookers and small-time con artists I drank with thought of me as something between quaint and insufferable; I mined that vein as deep and thoroughly as I could, but rarely felt like I was learning the real story.

Overnight, things changed. The wife and son of Kit Kat Club owner Jimmy Sumpter were murdered, their house burned with the bodies inside. Jimmy's thirst for revenge was palpable; barroom conversations dealt with little else. And suddenly, everybody wanted to talk to the long-haired kid from the Daily News.

Later I realized why. They were scared – Jimmy was going to have somebody killed, for sure, and information had become precious. What do you hear? Who does he think did it? Did he really hire The Brothers (a motorcycle gang) for a revenge hit?*

As a detached, presumably neutral party I could carry the gossip from one ear to another. I was briefly more important to them than they were to me, and I learned a lot.

That was lesson one. Lesson two came years later, when I was editor and an overbuilt real estate market was imperiling local savings and loan institutions and banks. Everybody knew there were federal bank examiners in town, and that somebody – more than one, perhaps? – was going down.

And just as in the Kit Kat murders, people who formerly shunned reporters from the paper – bankers, developers, pinstriped lawyers – were suddenly eager to talk. What do you hear? Where have those examiners been lately? Who were they talking to?

And what did I learn from all that? Two things, mainly: that bankers and developers have a lot in common with hookers and drug dealers when they get scared; and that there is often opportunity in crisis.

And that, as you may guess, is why I wrote about this today. I quoted a brief bit from an essay making that point last week, and the notion keeps running through my head. In a period with plenty of pain and anxiety, it's nice to recognize that there are opportunities, as well.

The fences are down, the hookers are talking and the Feds are questioning the bankers. It's a ripe time for us, if we're up to it.
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* Footnote: Somebody with a 12-gauge shotgun did kill Jimmy's suspect: the brother of a high-school classmate of mine whose last day alive I was able to reconstruct. I remember my lead on that story as one of my favorites: "Gary Zieger lay dead alongside the Seward Highway Tuesday, his life of 20 troubled years ended by the shot he waited for all day."

1 comment:

  1. The enemy of change and disruption: Passive resistance.

    There was a time when people like you and me would talk to top editors about changes needed for the web, and they would argue against it. "Oh, we don't want to scoop ourselves." or, "that's all find and dandy, but I still have a daily paper to put out that pays the bills."

    I don't hear that from editors much anymore.

    Now I hear, "Yup, the web is important. We'll get right on that." and the next day they're back to the same old.

    ReplyDelete

 
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