Pub crawl stabbing is online sensation

Account evolves as purported witnesses give their side

March 03, 2010|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

One news article - with a potent mix of excessive alcohol, class warfare and a stabbing in a neighborhood where crime seldom happens - created an online phenomenon Monday as readers and commentators followed the reporting as it evolved.

The posting about violence at a South Baltimore pub crawl generated almost 80 percent of the 18,500 page views on the Crime Beat blog and gave the public a virtual look into Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin Fenton's notebook, something only possible in this digital age.

The story, briefly, is that a fight erupted Saturday afternoon during and after a five-hour pub crawl through South Baltimore to raise money for the Baltimore Hitmen flag football team. There was one fight at Fort Avenue and South Charles Street, then another a few blocks east at Fort and Covington Street, when police said two women attacked a 25-year-old man who was then stabbed from behind by another man. Police arrested the women and were seeking the man. The victim is recovering from three stab wounds to his back.

The blog about the pub crawl stabbing drew 75 comments on Monday and more than a total of 100 by Tuesday afternoon, one of the highest totals ever for the blog, and far more than the 11 for postings on a convicted gun offender charged in a triple shooting and the few killings in the city in the first two months of the year.

There is a serious discussion lost amid the blog comments that piled up Monday like a rising trash heap, many of them mean-spirited, angry missives that veered from residents and purported witnesses complaining about drunken hooligans to disparaging remarks likening longtime South Baltimore residents to hicks.

The neighborhood along Fort Avenue is gentrifying, though certainly not as quickly as Canton and points north to Patterson Park. Along Fort, people who have lived in their homes for generations live next to young couples and new families in renovated rowhouses easily fetching $350,000.

Residents share streets with corner taverns, where people start lining up for their $1 bottles of Bud at 10 in the morning, and with trendier bars with wine tastings, local art on the walls and microbrews on tap. The gritty bar Hartloves became Rafters, which straddles the line between old Baltimore (still serves Natty Boh in cans and kept the Formstone walls on the inside) but also boasts a full menu and Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale on tap.

There is some tension between the old-timers and the newcomers, but ask most residents in both camps and they detest the pub crawls as invasions from people who don't live in the neighborhood, care nothing about its inhabitants and treat the public street as an extension of the bar, urinal and trash can.

It's an opportunity for worlds to collide, and the blog postings attest to this tension, some detesting a "yuppy golf attire themed" event with others labeling the participants nothing more than "white trash." Others stuck those same labels alternately on the residents. Posters argued over neighborhood boundaries, whether knives should be regulated like guns and about the general worth of South Baltimoreans. Few expressed concern about the victim.

This story became an Internet sensation in part because it evolved live, with Fenton constantly updating the blog as new information poured in. After the first posting, with scant information from police who said all those involved, including victim and suspects, were part of the bar crawl, a chorus of protest erupted as people claiming to be participants angrily denied the attackers were members of the football team. The victim, said one, was "stabbed by an unknown assailant and somehow he and the pub crawl are to blame?"

Then Fenton heard from the victim, and then the organizer, and finally got a police report that confirmed what hadn't been said before - that two people had been arrested. The report also confirmed a truer account - that the attackers were part of the pub crawl as invited guests of one member, but not everyone in the large group knew each other. So visitors out having a good time were not attacked at random.

The story evolved online, lurching to this nuanced version through a slog of misinformation, misdirection and vitriolic commentary, to its more sedate account in the printed version of Tuesday's newspaper. Reporters aren't used to taking notes in public, but in this case it helped ferret out the truth and drove the story to new heights of interest, at least online.

The article that finally appeared in the print edition, and can be read on the newspaper's Web site, didn't even make the top 10 best-read stories of Tuesday morning.

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