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Central Arkansas has a fairly vibrant news community, what with all the TV and print outlets, bloggers, Twitterers and newshounds both professional and amateur. It's easy to find news and commentary, in all its guises: left-leaning, right-leaning or somewhere in between. The Forbidden Hillcrest blog, though, stands out amongst its peers, striking a schizophrenic balance between humorous and newsy.
Forbidden Hillcrest came onto the scene in late July 2010. The blog is the brainchild of Paul Carr, a 45-year-old Hendrix graduate who works in finance. Early posts centered on the "Hillcrest Pug Strangler," a mysterious, bespectacled, long-haired individual (bearing a strange likeness to Smoke Up Johnny front man Alan Disaster), who lurked in the neighborhood's shadows, terrorizing adorable, smush-faced canines.
"Well, first of all there's a preponderance of pugs in Hillcrest," Carr says. "That's essentially my version of the id monster from the film 'Forbidden Planet.' Basically there was this planet and some folks landed on it and this monster was coming out of nowhere and killing everybody. It was created by someone's mind. The Hillcrest Pug Strangler was a suburbanized version of that. Instead of a giant monster it was a guy going around choking people's dogs."
The blog also chronicled the activities of strange cult groups, squatter camps of ex-convicts, space monsters and deranged dentists. Carr says the idea for the blog actually came from H.P. Lovecraft.
"He wrote one story called 'The Horror at Red Hook.' We went up to Brooklyn for awhile and took a little self-guided walking tour of where that book was set. I got a cool feeling out of it and when I got back home I was in that type of mindset so I just walked around and tried to write about Hillcrest, not really as it is, but as I would have it," Carr says.
It wasn't long, though, before Carr started covering hyper-local news, from car accidents to developments at the neighborhood Kroger (Carr's was the first outlet to post pictures from inside the renovated store, which may not seem like a big deal, but, hey, people gotta shop).
"The fiction started blurring into truth, like when I did the story about the hobo camp under the Cantrell bridge," he says. "If the truth is weird enough I'll go with that."
Carr now hopes to expand his efforts with a new venture called Station X-Ray, a blog committed to covering neighborhood crime. It's not finished yet, but Carr says the site will be up this summer.
"I've found there's a big hole in crime reporting in Little Rock," he says. "If there's a murder it will get in the paper. But burglaries and robberies don't get into the paper, so neighborhoods don't have anybody reporting crime."
Carr says he'll find material for the blog the old-fashioned way, by listening to a police scanner. After a mugging in the Heights last week, Carr posted scanner audio of the event along with a description of what happened and where. Mainstream outlets just don't cover these types of crimes, Carr says.
"These crimes may seem small, but I bet your neighbors would like to hear about it. The Democrat-Gazette is a state-wide newspaper. So it's hard for them to do neighborhood reporting on that level. It's a scale issue. It's just a matter of niche reporting," Carr says.
The new site (which you can find, eventually, at www.stationxray.com) won't focus strictly on Hillcrest. Carr will report on crime in surrounding neighborhoods, too. Eventually, Carr says the site will crowd-source information, using tips and posts from blog readers.
"It's bigger than a neighborhood thing. It's kind of a multi-neighborhood deal. I've included the Heights, Capitol View, Stifft Station, Hall, Leawood, Briarwood, Foxcroft, Cammack Village and Riverdale. That's a big chunk of Little Rock. I'm going to treat that as one neighborhood. If it's successful, we'll do another one for West Little Rock and maybe part of North Little Rock. If it works, I'll expand it."