Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Media Stumbled on Sunrise Equities Story

UPDATE, OCT. 17, 2008: ALSO SEE OBAMA CONNECTED TO SUNRISE EQUITIES, PART ONE CHICAGO - As is so often so typical, Chicago's dinosaur Big Media completely missed a major story - right under their noses. It's the story of a Muslim shariah financial investment company that has scamming as many as 300 investors for as much as $100 million. Salman Ibrihim, the CEO, and four other Sunrise officers vanished in late August, perhaps to Dubai or Pakistan. The entire Indian-Pakistani community, so prominent along the W. Devon corridor, has been abuzz about this scandal since late August, if not earlier. This would make one hell of a screen play. The failure of Sunrise Equities, and the mysterious disappearance of five of its top officers, is the kind of story that should have made the front page of both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. It should have gotten big play on all of the local television and radio news shows. In this age of New Media, however, a local blogger proved - again - that the little guys can often out do the big ones. Bill Morton has a blog on Chicago's north side called "Rogers Park in 1,000 Words." Morton's contributor "Grammar Girl" broke this story on September 14, 2008. That is, RP1000 was the first medium outside of the Devon corridor to pay attention to it. (See all "Sunrise Equities" related stories at RP1000...) It should be noted that on Sept. 11 the story was reported by the Muslim Media Network. Needless to say, MMN has few audience members outside of its target demographic. (See "Sun Sets on Sunrise Equities : Muslim Media Network.") This blog, The Bench, picked up on the story on Sept. 15 after seeing the RP1000 posts. We ran "Chicago's Hidden Financial Scandal" and quickly scored more hits that day - and still today - than on any other story. RP1000 told The Bench that they, too, are scoring huge numbers. Both RP1000 and The Bench have seen big hits coming from Dubai, India and Pakistan especially. What is interesting about most of these hits - or clicks, if you will - is that they are coming from people who are specifically searching for "sunrise equities" or "salman ibrihim." By the afternoon of Sept. 14, the News-Star newspaper (a weekly publication, part of the Chicago Journal family), had also noticed both the RP1000 and The Bench posts and was diligently digging into the story. The News-Star's first story about the Sunrise Equities catastrophe, "Where is Salman Ibrahim?" was in their Sept. 17 issue. News-Star reporter Lorraine Swanson, who is also the Editor of the paper, made good use of already-established contacts in the Indian-Pakistani community, and followed up with another article, "Indo-Pak investors fear the worst," on Sept. 24. Along stumbled the Chicago Tribune, finally, on Sept. 19 with the story "Muslim investors claim fraud." However, the Trib used an Associated Press feed, and it was nowhere near as well researched as the News-Star's article on Sept. 17, two days earlier. To the Tribune's credit, though, they at least showed interest in the story. They were at least aware of it, unlike the other Big Media locally. The Chicago Sun-Times got into the story on Sept. 20, but with a very brief, scratch-the-surface blurb. At least their story, however, was written by one of their own staffers. Four days later, on Sept. 24, the Trib published "Dozens of Muslims lose life savings to real estate developer," this time by one of their own and not cribbed from AP. Although more in depth than their Sept. 19 story, it misses many of the points that News-Star got days earlier. The headline, which indicates that "dozens" of people may lose their savings, is weird: There are close to 300 investors who are in jeopardy. "Dozens" seems an odd choice of words. Today, Sept. 26, the Trib ran another AP story (are they that short-staffed over there?). "Chicago's South Asians shocked by investment scam" is yet another weird headline. Sure, people were shocked by the scam - when it was fresh. Now, they're all just pissed off, as the shock wore off about a week ago. Nowhere in any of the Big Media reports is Bill Morton's RP1000 blog mentioned. RP1000 will probably stay ahead of the curve on at least some of the aspects of the story, as will News-Star. Both are closer to the story than the Big Media, doing better on-the-ground footwork and making use of deeper contacts in the Indian-Pakistani community.