A key piece of evidence has disappeared in the Mercury News rack theft caper.
At least one news rack in the Mercury’s possession vanished as the San Jose Police Department prepared to commence a criminal investigation into the daily’s dumping of its competitors’ racks.
Mercury News executives offered no explanation for the evidence-tampering—only that they had “triple checked” the yard and can’t locate it. Without the missing box—a months-old, recently-redesigned Metro news rack—it will be harder to unravel the mystery and trace whether the Mercury’s sweep of competitors’ stands was centered mainly in Palo Alto or if the media giant was also behind the recent disappearances of street distribution boxes in Willow Glen and San Jose’s Alameda commercial district. The San Jose thefts were reported by three organizations.
Last Wednesday afternoon, shocked representatives of Metro, the Palo Alto Daily Post and Circulation Management Inc., a contract distribution firm based in Mountain View, showed up at the Mercury News’ Ridder Park Drive to reclaim their property after CMI discovered newsboxes of local publishers tossed in a scrap metal recycling dumpster behind the Mercury News’ headquarters.
San Jose police officers and Mercury News security personnel ordered the representatives to wait on the sidewalk. The Daily Post’s publisher was threatened with arrest when he went to recover a newsrack, according to a Daily Post report.
The situation was diffused after SJPD offered to take a report and document the evidence, and a Mercury News executive agreed to remove the racks from the dumpster, count and organize the racks and allow the publications to recover their property on Thursday morning.
The Merc did not keep the agreement, however. On Thursday, it asked for more time to empty the dumpster and offered to deliver the seized racks rather than make publishers pick them up. On Friday, the Mercury News delivered four of the five Metro racks that it had in its possession to Metro’s downtown San Jose office.
Where was the other one? Mercury News officials offered no explanation for the disappearance of the Metro rack under their watch, nor have they provided any accounting of the dates, locations and quantity of racks that were picked up.
The Mercury News has changed its story several times. Executives initially said that they were storing the racks for pickup and had contacted publishers. They backed off that argument when publishers of the Daily Post, the Palo Alto Weekly, Mountain View Voice, La Oferta, Pink Spots and Metro publicly disputed the claim. The daily also said it was acting at the request of local officials, but San Jose and Palo Alto swiftly fired back denials.
After extensive coverage on television and radio newscasts, in the community press and on media industry web sites, a new twist emerged when the Mercury News covered the story in its low-circulation Saturday editions’ business sections. In that article, the Mercury News suggested that the recycling of competitors’ racks was a mistake by a single employee, and the count shrank from earlier reports. Bob Lampkin, a circulation director of Embarcadero Media, was quoted in the article described the news rack removals as “a totally normal situation.” It was also noted Lampkin previously worked for the Mercury News.
Bay Area News Group vice president of circulation David Rounds told his paper that “the racks the Mercury News removed were left along a fence behind the newspaper’s headquarters for pickup. However, while 17 racks were lined up by the fence, an employee mistakenly tossed seven others into a recycling bin.”
The article did not explain why the employee selected nearly-new boxes of the Daily Post and Metro for recycling while he elected not to toss a collection of rusty old racks nearby.
On Monday, Rounds maintained that the Metro rack that had been photographed on Wednesday at the bottom of the metal heap was nowhere to be found.
“If I had your newsrack, I’d give it back,” he told Metro.
Dan Pulcrano is the executive editor and CEO of Metro.