Fun With Press Releases: City Flack Doubling as Register Reporter?

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It's not particularly unusual to find stories in the Orange County Register that look remarkably similar to press releases issued by the DA's office, Sheriff's Department, or your local police department or mayor's office.

But usually, the name of the writer on the byline would be a bonafide Register reporter, and not say, the city staffer who wrote the release in question. Ah, the good old days...
For the past few months, an ex-Register reporter and city editor named Kelly Tokarksi has been penning harmless-looking freelance pieces for the Reg dealing with city-sponsored events or initiatives in South County towns like Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano. What's so funny about that, you ask? Well, according to her LinkedIn profile, Tokarksi is currently employed as a media consultant for both those towns, cranking out press releases that she is now apparently filing as regular news copy for the Grand Dame of Grand Street. 

Here's the headline of Tokarski's story about graffiti in San Juan Capistrano that ran online yesterday in the Reg: "San Juan Graffiti Law Makes Taggers' Parents Pay Bill." And here's the title of her press release, also published yesterday: "Council Adopts New Graffiti Ordinance That Will Make Taggers' Parents Pay the Bill."

Now check out the first few graphs of Tokarski's Register "article":

Under a new ordinance approved by the San Juan Capistrano City Council, parents can be held responsible for graffiti vandalism caused by their children. 

The council Tuesday unanimously gave final approval to the ordinance, which goes into effect in 30 days. It replaces existing city regulations with more-expansive rules intended to reduce crime, neighborhood deterioration and blight, according to city officials.

The move came after a rash of graffiti vandalism this year in downtown San Juan. Council members said graffiti on public and private property is a blighting factor that negatively affects the entire community.

And Tokarksi's press release:

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a new anti-graffiti ordinance, which makes parents responsible for graffiti vandalism caused by their kids. The ordinance gives the City more legal enforcement options to better protect public and private property from acts of vandalism and property defacement from graffiti.

The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days. It replaces existing City regulations with more expansive regulations and is meant to reduce crime, graffiti incidents, neighborhood deterioration, aesthetic blight and to enhance the quality of life in the city. 

The Council's proactive move comes after a rash of graffiti vandalism earlier this yar in the downtown. Council members feel that graffiti on public and private property is a blighting factor that negatively impacts the entire community.

Sound a bit familiar? Well, the similarities don't end there. 

Tokarski the Register freelancer interviewed SJC mayor Lon Uso about the new law: 

"Graffiti is an illegal activity that costs this city tens of thousands of dollars every year and is unacceptable... Because folks committing this crime are very difficult to catch, we need to have a system that when we do catch them, the punishment is sufficient enough to discourage others from committing this crime within our city... People who commit these crimes must know that there are consequences for their parents as well... when they go out and do this, their parents are going to suffer along with them." 

And here's what Mayor Uso told Tokarski, the city flack, for her media release:

"Graffiti is an illegal activity that costs this City tens of thousands of dollars every year and is unacceptable... Because folks committing this crime are very difficult to catch, we need to have a system that when we do catch them, the punishment is sufficient enough to discourage others from committing this crime within our City... People who commit these crimes must know that there are consequences for their parents as well... when they go out and do this, their parents are going to suffer along with them."

In an e-mail, Tokarksi stated that she doesn't work for the Register in any capacity. "I simply sent the PR out for the city," she said. "They may have cut and pasted it and threw a special to the Reg byline. I have not seen it online but have seen different papers take releases issued and use them before." She refused to name the editor who received her press release or who might have neglected to disclose her status as a city press flack when running the graffiti story. "My job is to relay the news from the city," she said. "I cannot comment on how the media chooses to report it."


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