NBC’s narrative news program Dateline ran a two hour special on Friday night featuring a murder case from Citrus County. The show introduced the nation to the Carlos Hallowell case, a young man who fatally struck his adoptive mother Denise with an ax. Carlos was convicted of premeditated murder and in September sentenced to life.
The Dateline coverage was good for Citrus County even if the story is gruesome. When combined with other recent events, it’s worth reflecting on how good the last two days have been before some turbulent times ahead arrive starting on Tuesday.
There’s an old public relations adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s not entirely true. But the Hallowell Dateline piece was not bad publicity despite the murder and the almost comically sensationalized title of the show, “Horror at the Lake.”
Think like a news producer. Television is a visual medium so an audience expects to see something either pleasant or that they can’t see many other places. Lake Henderson is both.
The title itself is meant to set up an inherent contradiction that causes uneasiness. Lakes are meant to be serene, and NBC goes to great lengths to have fabulous shots of our east side county lake system, while the horror description of the murder conflicts with these peaceful images in a person’s mind.
It’s not just the stunning B-roll that made the camera crews want to come to Inverness. It’s the story itself.
There are about seven different agreed upon news values in journalism. This doesn’t have some of those values such as timeliness or prominence. The murder took place years ago and no famous names or places were involved. What it does have, though, is novelty and conflict.
The novelty comes from the method of murder, an ax to the head while his mother slept, and the conflict comes from numerous other parts of the story that led up to the climactic murder. What elevates this to national news, however, is not just the conflict itself but the conflict resolution.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office dive teams recovered the mother’s cell phone and in-home security cameras that had been thrown in the lake and then were able to extract data from the phone to track the exact path it took from the house to the lake as well as the timeline of events.
The show visually represented this information with a 3D map of the house that had numerous pin drops in it that was truly captivating but that would not have been possible without the diligence of CCSO.
An underlying theme to the story is that the good guys won the day because of their hard work and clever ability to find compelling evidence to build a rock solid case. This ultimately led to a confession.
While the murder is tragic, the incident doesn’t harm Citrus from a PR standpoint because the system worked so well that it reinforces what a safe place the county is to live. CCSO reported this week to the Inverness City Council that the crime rate is virtually unchanged despite an influx of new residents and visitors to the area.
Two other events within 24 hours of the broadcast also strengthened the community. These were the 2021 Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival and the 14th Annual Stone Crab Jam Music Festival. The Concurrent doesn’t spend much time covering community events, but these are important for other reasons having to do with the county.
The three events from this weekend feature the best Citrus has to offer and two of the three took place on the east side of the county. Our economy is dependent on tourism and Crystal River is a marketable city. But highlighting other portions of the county shouldn’t be seen as competition to Crystal River but rather as supplemental efforts to bring different kinds of tourists.
Putting too much emphasis on what Crystal River can exclusively offer tourists that no other parts of the county can leads to ideas like the Ft. Island Trail multi-use path that is redundant in a county that offers miles of beautiful, shaded connected trails with numerous destination spots on the east side of the county.
The Commission hosts a workshop Tuesday to discuss setbacks and the sales tax. In three weeks, there is a special meeting to determine universal garbage collection. These topics will inevitably cause community conflict, but that will hopefully be resolved as quickly and easily as if CCSO were on the case.