Sunday, July 11, 2010

Too Much Information

Did you see the story last week about a treasure hunter who found 52,500 Roman coins while puttering around a field in Southwest England? Using a metal detector, David Crisp discovered a cache of third century coins worth an estimated $5 million. Here’s a link to one story about the amazing find: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1292990/Chef-Dave-Crisp-discovers-largest-hoard-Roman-coins-Somerset-field.html.

It’s not uncommon to see treasure hunters, young and old alike, wandering around public spaces, metal detector in hand, earphones propped atop their heads. They’re listening for the telltale ping of metal. When it comes, they dig with their trowels until the object is revealed. Usually it’s just a bottle top or some other bit of detritus. Occasionally it might be a ring. Or some coins. Sometimes the coins may be valuable.

When I was a bureau chief for The New Haven Register in the city of West Haven, Conn., some 34 years ago, I was driving around looking for an interesting Sunday feature when I came upon a treasure hunter on the city green. He was a quirky looking dude, just a little more presentable than a homeless man might appear. He was bent over his metal detector. It was a few minutes before he realized I was standing next to him.

After identifying myself and asking if he would be willing to talk about his hobby, I proceeded to find out he had been moderately successful at this enterprise, having released from the earth many rings, a necklace and bracelet or two, plus valuable coins. His treasure was worth close to a thousand dollars, he estimated. I concluded the interview by taking his picture and recording, as was the requirement of The Register for any article, his name, age and address.

You’ve probably guessed where this story is going.

Sure enough, two days after the article appeared, I noticed in the police blotter a stolen property report. The scavenger’s house had been burglarized. Gone was his treasure trove lovingly dug up over many years. If he hadn’t already lost it, also gone were his innocence and sense of trust in his fellow man.

I have few regrets about my years as a reporter. But I do regret adhering to the newspaper’s policy of printing addresses. Sometimes, too much information is a bad thing.

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