The Curious Case of the Post City Burglar
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The Curious Case of the Post City Burglar

The seven March 2011 editions of Post City Magazine.

Reading a home is something of an art form. Keith Matthews (not his real name) gestures at a large brick home on a snowy North Toronto street with the blinds pulled partially back. “You can tell no one’s in there,” he says. “You see the living room on the right-hand side, the kitchen area on this side. They do have the laundry going, so they’re going to be back soon. You can see the exhaust on the side. That’s their laundry.” He points to the side door, which is obscured from view by a row of cedar trees, as his likely point of entry.

So begins the cover story of Post City Magazine‘s March issue. The article appears in the North Toronto edition of the magazine—which publishes seven different editions every month, each based in a different part of the city—and is titled “Break-In All the Rules: Confessions of a Rosedale Burglar.
Unless you live around the north part of Bayview. There the article is titled “Break-In All the Rules: Confessions of a Bayview Burglar.” In Thornhill it’s “Confessions of a Thornhill Burglar” and in the opening sentence, Keith Matthews is gesturing “at a large brick home on a snowy Thornhill street.” In the Forest Hill edition he’s on a Forest Hill street, and in North York it’s a North York street.
This burglar gets around.

The article, it turns out, is the cover story of all seven March 2011 editions of Post City, and seems identical in every respect—except for the pesky question of just where in Toronto Matthews is speaking from. The house in front of which he is standing is described precisely the same way across the board: in each version of the article the living room is on the right-hand side, the laundry is going, and the home’s side door is obscured by what sounds like the same row of cedar trees. Even though the house is supposed to be in six different places.
All told, Matthews stands—or at least is described as standing—in front of six houses, on six different snowy streets: Forest Hill, North Toronto, North York, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, and the generic “snowy neighbourhood street” (which is cited in the Midtown and Bayview editions). The title changes a full seven times, with the subject being described as a “Forest Hill Burglar,” “Thornhill Burglar,” and so on, all the way down the list.
Post City describes its slate of magazines as “unique, high-quality publications, that report on the news, people and lifestyles of Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhoods.”
Apparently there are more similarities between those neighbourhoods than you might have guessed.
When the repetition of the story, with one vital fact (fact?) apparently customized to create local appeal, was discovered observers (especially other journalists) were immediately appalled. Though the editions are known for sharing materials—and there is nothing wrong with doing so—(giving the appearance that you are) materially altering a factual element in a story to make it suit your audience is an entirely different matter.
Though Post City editor Ron Johnston was unable to answer our questions, early this afternoon a note of apology was appended to the foot of the online version of the article. In full, it reads:

In our March cover story, Break-In All the Rules, Post City Magazine acknowledges the writer and the burglar did visit several specific streets in each of the seven neighbourhoods. The burglar in question did commit several robberies in all of these areas. While correct in our North Toronto, Village, Midtown and Bayview editions, Post City Magazines made the mistake of presenting this same street in the North York, Thornhill and Richmond Hill print editions. This error was made during production and we regret it.
However, lessons learned from the investigation are valid lessons right across the city regardless of where one lives. The story is no less important and timely for our readers and homeowners across Toronto.

We are heartened that Post City seems to realize that something has gone amiss, though arguably the apology doesn’t really get to the core of the matter. It isn’t just a question of having visited streets in each neighbourhood: a specific house is mentioned, and described as being on every single one of those many streets. Perhaps this mistake resulted from a conscious decision, to “personalize” the story and intentionally make readers—no matter where they were—identify with it more strongly. Perhaps there is a more innocuous explanation. The apology does not, with its mention of making the mistake “during production,” make that clear.
Oh, and the house? Based on the above note, it seems to be in “Forest Hill,” which may or may not be considered part of “North Toronto”—apparently the titular description in both those editions (which have different distribution areas) is correct.