Rarely does a press release go viral while garnering praise from journalists and social media users—particularly a release from a police department.
That didn’t deter Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, a reporter turned police department blogger.
On Friday, a few days after voters in Washington state passed a law legalizing marijuana, Spangenthal-Lee published a blog post—which some reporters are calling a press release—on the Seattle Police Department’s website to explain legal marijuana use in the city.
The title of the post: “Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle
Here’s a pinch from Spangenthal-Lee’s bag of goodies:
“What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk? Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.
“SPD [Seattle Police Department] seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back? No.
“December 6th [when the new law takes effect] seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then? Hold your breath. Your case will be processed under current state law. However, there is already a city ordinance making marijuana enforcement the lowest law enforcement priority.”
The post, which Spangenthal-Lee updated to include “more legalese and fewer references to narcotics dogs,” features a short video clip from “The Lord of the Rings,” in which Bilbo Baggins celebrates “the finest weed in the Southfarthing.”
Between the video and Spangenthal-Lee’s language (clear, informative, and witty), reporters are calling this press release the finest around.
Albany Times Union
news research director Sarah Hinman Ryan told media blogger Jim Romenesko
, “This is the funniest police department press release/FAQ I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Twitter users heaped praise upon it, and one freelance writer/photographer posted:
So who is the author of the “Marijwhatnow” post?
According to Romenesko
, Spangenthal-Lee, a former crime reporter at alternative weekly The Stranger
(as well as a blogger at SeattleCrime.com, which he launched), joined the police department in March. A Stranger
editor described Spangenthal-Lee to Romenesko as a “young hip-hop dude” with the “chops of a hard-boiled 1940s reporter.”
In an interview with Romenesko, Spangenthal-Lee said his goal as the police department’s blotter writer—that’s his job title—is “to help the department proactively put out timely, clear information in an accessible way.” He said the Marijwhatnow post is “a great example of that” and noted that the feedback among his colleagues has been “very positive.”
Ultimately, what Spangenthal-Lee is doing for the Seattle Police Department is brand journalism. His other posts for the police department’s blog are far more serious in nature. They read like classic police “blotter” items you might find in a newspaper, with story about shootings, robberies, and drug seizures.
RELATED: Coca-Cola unveils brand journalism website