As a matter of record, Carlson is front-page newsRobin Washington column: Remember this item in the News Tribune? “Duluth police raided two downtown shops Tuesday, filling a truck, a van and a car with suspected drug paraphernalia. … Police also seized an illegal military assault rifle from the Last Place on Earth,” a police spokesman said.
Remember this item in the News Tribune?
“Duluth police raided two downtown shops Tuesday, filling a truck, a van and a car with suspected drug paraphernalia. … Police also seized an illegal military assault rifle from the Last Place on Earth,” a police spokesman said.
If that sounds like something from last two weeks about the arrest, jailing, release and re-arrest of Last Place proprietor, Jim Carlson, sorry; you’re off by a couple of decades.
Rather, it’s from June 8, 1994; the first account in the News Tribune archives of police encounters with the Superior Street establishment.
Since then, an electronic search yields more than 200 mentions of Carlson and his business in the paper, give or take duplicate entries or those about other Jim Carlsons or the phrase “last place on Earth” in reference to Antarctica. In little more than a week since the most recent raid on March 29, he’s been on Page One five times.
Is it too much?
“Jim Carlson gets too much free advertising for selling synthetic drugs to the public to make himself rich,” read one letter to the editor last week. Other comments came on the News Tribune’s Facebook page:
“I plea with the media in the Duluth-Superior area to stop talking about the Last Place on Earth. Every time you broadcast a story covering anything to do with this business, you are driving it.”
And: “Enough already. A great way of getting free advertising.”
The writers have a point. While journalistic fairness dictates that we tell both sides in stories about conflict, freedom of the press means there’s no law saying we have to print any particular story. An example is the coverage of suicides, which we and most mainstream media generally do not report unless well-known figures or otherwise public circumstances are involved.
Some news entities take it further, refraining from covering homicides, or in communities where they’re sadly commonplace, devoting little space to them. Conversely, such tragedies are very big news in communities such as ours because they are uncommon, and because none of us is likely to be more than a degree or two of separation away from those directly affected.
The word “news” is difficult to define, with Merriam-Webster offering as two meanings “a report of recent events” and “matter that is newsworthy.” The latter is particularly subjective — newsworthy to whom? — and as stated above, it depends on where the news happens.
There’s no question that the Last Place on Earth story is news. It certainly was top of mind to many I spoke with at various events this weekend. So was our coverage.
“He deserves it. It’s a big problem,” said Craig Chilcote of Duluth at the Duluth Playhouse fundraiser on Friday night. “It’s something that everyone’s aware of, and I think it should be at the forefront.”
Home Show attendee Dave Rosu shared a similar view Saturday afternoon.
“On the one hand, you don’t want to glorify him, but on the other hand you want people to know this is illegal and this is what happens to people who do these illegal things,” he said, noting, as others, the devastation attributed to synthetic drugs sold at Carlson’s shop.
But Ann Cox of Duluth Township disagreed.
“He should not be getting all this free advertising,” she said, offering as an alternative: “I would like to see it put back into Matters of Record, just like everyone else. There are others that have three- and four-inch Matters of Record. Jim Carlson would fit in just fine.”
Speaking of the record, it should be noted that Carlson’s contention, and his lawyer’s, is that his activities are not illegal, or shouldn’t be. A News Tribune search of Minnesota court records last week found no convictions for Carlson, including in the 1994 case. Charged then with selling illegal drug paraphernalia, his case went to a jury, which acquitted him.
“It’s kind of like Rosanne Roseannadanna. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Carlson’s lawyer, Randall Tigue, said from the Twin Cities on Friday, adding: “A government crusade against a lawful business is, I think, news.”
But front-page news? As the person who makes that decision, I would add “spontaneity” and “unpredictability” to Merriam-Webster’s definition. All of the Carlson stories last week — arrested, in jail, out and back again — were a surprise to everyone. No one, not even Carlson, knew what would happen next.
And we still don’t. Tomorrow morning is his hearing in Minneapolis.
Is it worth attending? Absolutely, and we plan on being there. Will it be front-page? We’ll find out when it happens.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.