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Michaelyn Blackwell is the poster child in the battle against coupon thieves.

And her favorite megaphone is her local television station in South Georgia, which has told her tale – again and again.

“Thieves are stealing newspapers from stands all around Moultrie,” WALB-TV reported a couple of weeks ago. “They’re greedy,” Blackwell told the station. “I didn’t see anywhere where it said ‘Free’.”

Blackwell makes a living by loading newspapers into some 20 stands outside stores all around town. She went to the station with her story after she captured a couple of women on camera swiping all, or sections, of about 90 Sunday newspapers without paying for them. The women put in a few coins, held the stands open with their legs, and dug through the stacks of papers – looking for coupons.

“It’s not the first time,” Blackwell said.

Indeed it isn’t.

Almost exactly a year earlier, WALB aired almost exactly the same story. “Thieves are swiping coupons from newspapers,” the station reported in August 2015. And their story featured a familiar source – Michaelyn Blackwell. “It’s not complicated,” Blackwell said in that story. “More than one paper is a theft… It doesn’t say ‘Buy one get one free’.” Then, as now, she warned thieves that she had hidden cameras set up to catch them. But she said stores could help catch the criminals as well. “If you got somebody turning in 50 coupons for Marie Callender’s, you need to look at that,” she said.

Maybe the stores would have been more aware of the problem, had they watched WALB a year and a half earlier. “Newspaper thefts continue in Moultrie,” the station reported in March 2014. Front and center in that story was – you guessed it – Michaelyn Blackwell. “They are stealing them for the coupons,” she said. “Pay for the paper. It’s the nice thing to do, and honorable thing to do.”

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Too bad the thieves didn’t heed that advice in 2011, when WALB aired this report: “Thieves hit newspaper stands hard”. And who was WALB’s source for that story? Why, Michaelyn Blackwell, of course. “They want the coupons and get very obsessive with them,” she said. “In my opinion, you don’t need 50 of the same thing. It’s very extreme.”

If WALB’s coverage seems a bit repetitive, you’ve at least got to admire Blackwell’s pluck in keeping her story in the spotlight. There’s a lot of turnover at small-town TV stations. So calling the same station with the same story idea, year after year, can produce results when there are brand-new reporters to talk to each and every time.

And Blackwell’s problem is a real one. As an independent contractor, the cost of the stolen papers comes right out of her pocket. She estimates that she can lose several thousand dollars a year, just so coupon thieves can save a few extra bucks on their groceries. So you can’t blame her for wanting to bring attention to the issue.

WALB certainly hasn’t lost interest. They already aired a followup report yesterday, a mere two weeks after last featuring her story. “Newspaper rack carrier sees dramatic drop in theft,” the station reported. “This past weekend we had no theft. Zero,” Blackwell said. “I’m amazed.”

Blackwell, and the station, attributed the dramatic change to the report that aired a couple of weeks ago. People must have seen the story, realized the error of their ways – or at least began to fear they might get caught – and decided to stop their thievery.

So, problem solved? Might this be the last that WALB has heard from Michaelyn Blackwell?

Perhaps not. Blackwell may have inadvertently stumbled upon a foolproof – but temporary – way to thwart coupon thieves. This past weekend, there were no coupon inserts in the paper. That’s a pretty reasonable explanation as to why no one stole them. This coming weekend, when the coupons return – who knows what will happen?

So the next time it’s a slow news day in Moultrie, or there’s a new reporter at WALB looking for a scoop, don’t be surprised to see Michaelyn Blackwell in the news again. At least until the coupon thieves themselves are in the news – for getting caught.

Photo by Mulad

One Comment

  1. As long as the cameras are such that they can show the person actually taking more papers with them – simply “looking” through them is not a crime (and in fact most people do that because of this issue – the people paying for their paper want one with all the stuff in it that they are paying for).

    Also – while 50 of the same coupon would be more unusual (and questionable) having a few (say 4-8) shouldn’t be as people do get more than one paper, and some may collect them from friends as well (say where one person uses x and the other y, they swap the ones they don’t use). Plus many of the coupons limit use to 4 (or sometimes 2) of the same one at one time anyway, which stores should be following (if the stores themselves don’t have rules – maybe only those stores that double tend to do that?).

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