Mess Media

monitors, analyzes and corrects media reporting errors and bias concerning messengers and couriers.

Messenger Institute
 for Media Accuracy




Blame it on the bike messenger

Mess Media, November 3, 2007

Update - Police make an arrest - not a courier

On Friday, November 2, a cyclist was involved in a road rage altercation with a motorist in downtown Toronto. After exchanging words it is alleged that the cyclist stabbed the motorist in the neck and face two or three times with some kind of tool. The cyclist then fled the scene on foot, leaving his bike behind.

The mountain bike with kick stand left behind by the cyclist who allegedly stabbed a motorist.

Witnesses described the cyclists as a male in his 20’s or 30’s with perhaps a goatee. He was also described as wearing a satchel or bag. The picture of his bike, showed a blue geared mountain bike with a kick stand. It had a chain lock wrapped around the seat tube and tucked under the seat. It looked like it would take quite some time to get that lock out to lock up the bike.

Now here is where the media and some cycling advocacy blogs turn the perpetrator from a cyclist into a bike courier. No witnesses described the cyclist as a courier. At least one "witness Brigid Nelson, 23, said police told her he might have been a homeless man from a nearby shelter.” CityTV  was first to report that the cyclist was a courier simply “because he was wearing a satchel and riding a bike.” It wasn't the police who believed this. It was only CityTV reporter, Omar Sachedina.

From there other media outlets reported on the CityTV report that the cyclist was a courier, some erroneously attributing the belief to the police. Even some local cycling advocacy blogs jumped on the courier bashing bandwagon by repeating the unfounded accusations, giving credence to the irresponsible media reports.

Talk radio stations whose listeners consist mainly of car drivers went the furthest. AM640 didn’t mention a cyclist at all. It embellished details, reporting that "police say there was some kind of  altercation between the courrier[sic] and driver."

Courier Stabs Driver

The search continues for a bike courier after the driver of an S.U.V. was stabbed in the neck and face in downtown Toronto Friday morning. Police say there was some kind of altercation between the courrier[sic] and driver while they were in the westbound lanes of College, east of McCaul.

The driver was stabbed a few times in the neck and face with what police say was a screwdriver. The driver is in hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The courier took off, leaving his bike behind.

Thankfully some newspapers didn't take the CityTV report as fact. They actually did some checking of their own and reported only the facts and not the gossip.

Converting the assailant from a mere cyclist to a courier appeals to the media because it creates fear and plays to the image of “marauding reckless couriers” and that cyclists are not legitimate road users. It appeals to civilian cycling blogs because they can try to distance themselves from this cyclist. They label him a courier because everyone knows that couriers are “crazy” and not respectable cyclists. In the end both groups’ actions push couriers further to the fringe of society contributing to endless false perceptions of  bike messengers.

In reality only one fact (a messenger style bag) points to the possibility that the cyclist may also be a courier but even this fact is remote because so many cyclists and non-cyclists downtown imitate the functional fashion of bike messengers.

More details point away from the cyclist as a courier. Why would a courier abandon his bike? Not only is the  bike a courier's source of income, it's also his most identifiable feature. Couriers see downtown from their bike. They know the fastest escape routes on bike not foot. If it was a courier his bike could be identified quickly as messengers often refer to other messengers by their bike. A courier who rode a bike with a kick stand would be well known in the community for this. In fact his nickname would likely be "Kickstand." It would also be quite simple to find out which courier company had a messenger book off or disappear at the time of the altercation.

Was the cyclist wearing a radio or cell phone? Were any waybills or manifests visible? Were there packages in his bag? The media conveniently left these details out as the likely “no” answers to these questions would also point away from the cyclist as courier story.

Regardless of the occupation of this cyclist, the damage is already done to messengers and perceptions of messengers. Even if the police catch this person and it’s reported that he does not work as a courier the entire city will still remember the time “the courier stabbed the motorist”, just like they remember the time the courier ran over and killed the elderly lady on Bloor Street.

In that case the police went so far as to issue a press release stating that the cyclist “was not a courier” but no one reported it and no one remembers it.

All messengers can hope for is that in future the media will investigate and report the facts without fixing them around their own agendas - a faint hope indeed.




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