Introducing the Bizarre Blotter

File (Eliot Schechter/AFP/Getty Images)
File (Eliot Schechter/AFP/Getty Images)

Police found him lying naked in the middle of a Michigan street. When they tried checking on him, the 17-year-old became agitated and jumped on the hood of a police cruiser, allegedly shattering its windshield with his fists. The teen later told cops he’d ingested acid.

An acid-inspired initiative
In the pre-Thunderdome era, I casually shared that story with a group of journalists from across the DFM network on a call one day. It was their engaged response that made me think stories like this — small and local as they may be — have an unusualness-factor that makes them interesting beyond their geographic peg. Months later, I pitched the idea of an odd crime news roundup to my editor, Julie Westfall.

“Our papers are good at this,” I said. “No matter how big or how small, every market has a blotter and every blotter occasionally gets stories so weird they’ll be interesting to any audience, anywhere, based on their weirdness alone.”

She let me try it and hence, the bizarre blotter was born. Now a twice-weekly feature produced by Thunderdome, the bizarre blotter is a collection of unusual crimes reported by DFM newsrooms. We’ll add in curated pieces from other news outlets when it makes sense to do so, too.

How the bizarre blotter is assembled
We use an RSS-reader of all DFM content that is set to turn up any stories mentioning the word police. I find myself strangely addicted to scrolling through this never-ending stream of crime news, clicking on story headlines to find those with that highly-unusual factor.

Sometimes it’s on the lighter side, like an alleged robber caught by cops thanks to his love of Big Macs, and sometimes it’s more controversial stuff, like a woman accused of smothering her boyfriend to death with her breasts.

Every item is rewritten to focus on the unusual factor. My intent is to make the rewrite interesting and punchy while being responsible and not overwhelmingly salacious.

Targeted toward social sharing
One of the questions we’ve fielded frequently from DFM journalists is why we’re offering the blotter as a roundup. The label head “bizarre blotter” is awful for SEO. Grouping these items together, rather than giving each individual space, has the same effect.

There are a few reasons we’re sacrificing a lot of SEO tactics for this. One, the stories themselves already exist as individual items within our network and are accessible to the network for use in their original form. The intent of rewriting and grouping these items is to give them broader appeal, as well as putting them in a tone and context that we hope engages readers to stay longer and read to the bottom.

The blotter itself is formatted to be friendly for digital readers, too — scannable sub-headlines, quick reads, lots of images and of course, links back to the original content. We’re striving to add value for online readers and produce something geared more for social shareability than SEO.

Not using the bizarre blotter? Here’s how to find it
We produce and share the bizarre blotter every Tuesday and Thursday, aiming to distribute it as early in the day as we can. We’re still working on improving our timing, too.

Those in Media News Group can find the feature in their CMS — access details are on the Thunderdome budget — and place it on their sites that way. Journal Register Company newsrooms can place the story into an article page via the embed code, also provided on the budget.

For those who would prefer an SEO-optimized approach, or for use in print, the full text is also provided. We kindly ask that newsrooms using the full text method online take the time to insert the appropriate links back to the original stories.

Mission Control includes a mention of the blotter in its morning advisories to the national email list on the days we publish it. If you’re a DFM journalist or producer not on the mailing list, you can make that request by emailing Mission Control.

Got a blotter-worthy item? Send it in!
We do our best to catch stories that are a good fit, but we can’t get them all. If you have a story that you think is a good fit for the bizarre blotter, please email Mission Control. You can also email me directly, too — it’s been great hearing from some of our DFM cops beat extraordinaires.

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