Saturday, October 24, 2009

First "Marketplace" radio story airs

The first installment of our Marketplace public radio series as told by Nashville Private Investigator Thomas H. Humphreys aired on Monday, October 19. [FIND] Investigations looked into the economy's effect on petty thievery and shoplifting in several Nashville neighborhoods...and uncovered an unexpected twist to the story. You can listen to the archived piece and read a transcript here at Marketplace's website. Look for Part 2 sometime next month!

Special thanks go out to Andy Schienman for composing the absolutely fabulous music for the piece and to the brilliant Molly Jamieson for brainstorming titles and concepts and for encouraging us to go forth and be creative with it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Divorce - An Economic Indicator?

How’s the economy doing?

The “numbers” often obscure the picture: the stock market surges while unemployment slowly spirals upwards. As for GDP and the TED Spread…um…what?!?!?  In the end, no two economists agree on the answer to the question.

For most folks, the real question is this: How does the recession affect my day-to-day life?

We’ve heard the stories: journalists, restaurant owners and employees, pilots, automotive dealers, and factory workers who’ve lost jobs and businesses, families who’ve lost homes. More insidious effects likely lie beneath the surface—stress-induced health problems, rising crime…and according to this MSN money article from earlier this year, a decrease in divorce filings.

At first glance, it sounds like a silver lining. It's not such great news for family lawyers and investigators who specialize in divorce cases, but so what? Could it be good news for families? A case of external stress bringing couples closer, maybe?

Phoenix family-law attorney Bonnie Booden says unfortunately, no. “…Most people in the middle-income brackets are getting by on whatever income they have,” she tells MSN money, adding that many couples are choosing to stick it out for the time being because the cost of splitting a household into two is prohibitive. 

Add this little tidbit from a recent Independent article,  Why more desperate housewives choose to play away from home,” and you get a zesty stew of marital strife—increasing infidelity among women, middle-class couples who can’t afford a divorce.

Where does this leave spouses facing a lengthy in-home separation or attorneys and PIs in the uncomfortable position of playing counselor to an unhappily married client? It's damage control time, folks.

For a little help in the "making the most of things" realm, check out the work of Dr. John Gottman, the noted relationship researcher Malcolm Gladwell famously profiles in his 2005 book Blink. (see excerpt)

Gottman has observed thousands of couples for more than three decades, and he offers the following tips for improving relationships. For best results, steer away from the "four horsemen"--his term for the communications styles he considers most disastrous to relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

You can read more about the four horsemen and myths of marital dysfunction here.



Monday, October 19, 2009

In Today's News...

First, we learn from our confidential source that baby formula routinely disappears off the shelves at the chain drugstore she manages on Gallatin Road.

Then our expert Joe LaRocca of the National Retail Federation tells us that baby formula is the most common item reported stolen by their grocery store retail members.

Now this: 

Not an hour after finishing the previous post about our investigation into shoplifting along the Gallatin Road corridor in Nashville, our Marketplace editor sends this, from "Webwire": 

Parsippany, New Jersey – a woman absconded from Walgreen’s with $150 worth of baby formula only to be run over twice by her getaway van in the pharmacy parking lot as she tried to escape...


Aside from being run over twice by the very van in which the baby-formua pilferer had planned to flee the scene, what concerns us most is that her injuries were described as "mostly minor." 

Deep Research: The Process

Deep Research, n. a systematic exploration of behavior that employs intense field work, meticulous evidence-gathering, and knowledgeable interpretation.

Deep research assumes many forms.

In journalism, as in detective work, a case always begins with a question. If an investigator’s worth his salt, the question he asks is the right one, even if the question his editor or client presents him with is not.

Our major deep research project this summer and early autumn called on both journalistic and detecting skills. The question we asked, and planned to answer for the nationally syndicated public radio show, Marketplace, was this:

Does an economic recession cause an upsurge in crime?

We at [FIND] began our quest for answers in mid-July, by combing national news sources on the subject. No easy answer emerged from the scores of contradictory articles, as you’ll see from just a few examples:

New York Times article: “Keeping Wary Eye on Crime as Economy Sinks”

LA Times editorial: “Crime and Economy Don’t Tell Whole Story”

It quickly became clear that we needed to winnow the question down a bit. A phone call to our cop buddy (who wishes to be called “Officer X”) and a couple of reconnaissance cruises along his beat—the seedier stretches of Gallatin Road near downtown—began to carve our thinking into a sharper instrument .

“Officer X” said several things that caught our attention:

“The average laid-off person…tight on cash—they are contributors to society. They’re not gonna lose a job and then go out stealing cars and selling dope…But they might write more bad checks, sell some prescription drugs, or maybe shoplift." -Officer X

Shoplifting, we thought. The ultimate opportunity crime. Wouldn’t that kind of crime, the afterthought of someone newly desperate and trying to provide for his family, be the first category affected by higher unemployment, especially in a neighborhood that’s always existed near the edge? A few initial conversations with beleaguered store owners seemed to confirm this suspicion. (One national drugstore chain manager said off the record she'd seen baby formula and diapers marching off the shelves via the five-fingered discount like never before.) Our curiosity was now officially piqued.

So the new question became:

Has the current economic downturn caused an upsurge in petty thievery and shoplifting in Nashville?

We thought so. And we discovered that, most likely, it does. But not for the reasons we thought.

To find out what we discovered, you’ll have to listen to our Marketplace piece on the subject.

*The story posts this evening, whenever Marketplace airs in your city. We'll post a link after the fact.


Every now and then a thing just smacks you in the face. It’s been there all along, lurking in your subconscious, leering at you, mocking you. Then one day it just up and clocks you, hard.

I’ve been a research specialist for years: Real estate research, appraisals, feasibility studies, that kind of thing. I dipped a toe into the cold waters of journalism several years ago, mostly out of a love of words, language, and storytelling. I also happen to be somewhat of a gear hound.

I got a call about a year ago from a lawyer friend. Knowing my ability to find things (identify connections between property, people, assets, transactions, etc.), he asked if I could help him track down some business dealings that a client’s soon-to-be-ex had “hidden” prior to filing for divorce. A couple days pawing through obscure public records in the basement of a rural courthouse (There was a sign on the wall that read, “please do not spit in the ash tray.”), and I had not only found the records, but had identified links between soon-to-be-ex and some other businesses about which the client didn’t even have a clue.

This led to the question of whether or not I could testify in court to what I found. My lawyer buddy said (in jest), “If only you were a private investigator.”

There it was. That moment of clarity when you see all these connections that somehow make sense. That afternoon I began the process of becoming Thomas H. Humphreys, Private Investigator.