Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Stealing Hospitality

Posted April 30, 2007 10:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2007 7:50 a.m. EDT

In this day and age of  easy, quick and anonymous communication provided by the Internet, we get feedback every day on controversial stories.  A lot of it is not fit to print, if you catch my drift.  But every once in awhile the stories that I think will provoke the least response from viewers strike a chord in a way that I never could have imagined.  I'm always pleasantly surprised when a story that I might have considered run-of-the-mill actually has an impact on people far beyond the minute-and-a-half that it spends on your television screen.  

Last week, I did a story on what appeared to be teams of phony magazine salespeople going door-to-door in the Triangle.  Police warned homeowners not to open their doors to these  imposters.  In response to the stories, I got dozens of e-mails from people who had experienced the same thing and wanted to make sure that others knew this was really happening.   Not only was it happening in Raleigh, but in Durham, Cary and Johnston County.   The  stories were all slightly different, but they contained enough similarities to make me realize that this is a serious and ongoing problem.

I have to confess that I don't read the comments that viewers post on our Web site.  Too often, I find them to be discouraging and distracting to productive conversation.  But I do read feedback that viewers send me directly or post on my blog.  In this case, I was struck by the desire of so many people to warn others.  I appreciated this constructive feedback, and  I especially appreciated how the  writers seemed to be  genuinely concerned that someone else might be the victimized.

Overall, it appears that the salespeople are unwitting pawns of companies who aim to scam not only potential customers, but their employees as well.  While police warn that these people could be dangerous, ultimately they are more likely to take your money and your pride than your silver or your stereo.  Former employees say they were told to lie to make the sale, to take only cash, and they were very rarely paid for the job they did.   Customers paid for magazine subscriptions that  were never delivered.

I think the reason this strikes such a nerve with people is that in general, in the South, we are a polite people.  It's not in our nature to be rude to people, to not open the door, to not listen to an alleged college student who is trying to raise money for an alleged educational trip to Europe.  It defies our sensibilities that someone would take advantage of this politeness.  In several of the cases, the salespeople asked for a glass of water.  Again, it's hard for southerners not to invite someone in for a cold drink.  But one woman told me she felt like she was "forced" to do the "smart thing" and ask the salespeople to stay on the porch while she retrieved their water.  It was against her upbringing, but her better judgment prevailed.

But clearly, the world has changed, and common decency must often give way to caution in these circumstances.  I think it was the indignation at having to shirk the customs of hospitality in favor of safety that prompted so many people to write.  I appreciated all of the comments and will keep them in mind when we do future reports on the issue.  But mostly, I appreciated the level of discourse -- one that encouraged more investigation, more warnings and concern for others.  Now, that's something that doesn't happen every day...  

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.