A breaking story out of New Hampshire made all the rounds on the Internets today: A veteran, multiple award-winning sportswriter has been charged (emphasis on charged, as in innocent until proven guilty) with allegedly leading a prostitution ring using Craigslist.
Kevin Provencher -- the New Hampshire Union-Leader's go-to guy on the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, four-time winner of the New Hampshire Sportswriter of the Year Award, and a former director of sports information at an American college -- is (or rather, was) a deeply entrenched sports writer for a newspaper. In short, he's got pretty strong credentials.
Provencher, as the story claims, has also been spotted in Canada with a confirmed operation similar to the one he allegedly runs in the Live Free or Die state.
Now before we start to generalize here or even have a few laughs (and let's face it, there's going to be a few, ironic or not, in some newsrooms across North America today), let's be clear: we don't know all the facts in this case and it's far, far too easy for anyone to jump to judgment at this point. Let the facts come out first.
However, it's quite interesting that Gawker -- the flagship in Nick Denton's empire of cutting, vicious snark -- felt comfortable enough to refer to this as "a new and exciting entry for the 'Broke Journalists and Their Side Jobs" story.
Truth be told, we don't know what Provencher's motivations are, and whether it was financial desperation (if you know how well the Union-Leader pays, speak up, but if people stay there 20-plus years, it might be what used to be called a "retirement paper"). While what he allegedly did is illegal and morally questionable, it's the kind of story that really speaks to a side of journalism that no one really talks about in public.
There is a profound difference between reasons for committing crimes and using those reasons as excuses for a crime. The distinction is vital, for determining the guilt of an offender is not an exercise in black-and-white, morally self-righteous thinking. It's a far more subtle, complex process than the public (and journalists) desire, given that a lot of people prefer to use snap judgments (and precious column inches) to assuage their sense of outrage. It's a form of pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Make no mistake, though: there's going to be a lot of stories out there over the next few days that will tout off all the usual moral heavy-handedness that's part-and-parcel of this kind of story -- Provencher's exploiting women for financial gain, he's contributing to a twisted culture of violence and abuse, etc. All of those claims may be true. However, this is not the kind of forum for those kinds of topics (it would require a far more reasoned and informed sociologist/women's studies/criminologist's perspective to get to the heart of those issues, and none of us are that).
But at the risk of being the devil's advocate (remember, reasons are not the same as excuses), it bears considering that whatever his motivations are, Gawker's inference -- Broke Journalists and Their Side Jobs -- does make for an interesting side note discussion on what journalists are doing -- including illegal, criminal acts -- to supplement their income in an industry that's facing a truly desperate economic crisis. It's a sad state of affairs that even esteemed journalists are allegedly committing crimes like pimping, but it also speaks to a sense of legitimate fear that's plaguing journalism among those who work in it.
While no one ever goes into journalism for the money, this is the darkest time in the profession's history for jobs and a reasonable, living wage. Many journalists I know haven't seen raises in years, while job security is becoming an increasingly loose term.
Bear in mind, this is no rationalization for what Provencher stands accused of, but you can bet that any mirth drawn from this will be ironic at best.
UPDATE: While we're not normally the kind of site that links to Gawker, here's some more information on Provencher's case. It's definitely eye-brow raising.