Tips for Crime Reporting

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Readers or listeners often want an explanation of why crimes happen. They ask: "Could it happen to me?" -The News Manual, Crime Reporting

Though, as we've already established in this class, the news has a tendency of making people more paranoid than necessary.  When consulting the news, the answer to the question "Could it happen to me" is nearly always a resounding yes.  Part of this is because the news constantly reports the strange, the unsafe, and the unsettling, so viewers are constantly bombarded with these images.  If one of the few connections an elderly person has to the outside world is the news, then it is easy to see how they would think these things are very common, when in fact, the news is constantly reporting things out of the norm. 

Criminals take risks and face punishment if they are caught. This may make them fascinating to read about.

Well, true, but I'm not sure this should be under the "Why Report Crime" section.  It's more...a lucky benefit for the paper than a reason.  It makes everyone sound a little sadistic, doesn't it?  "Well, if the person is being punished, then, heck yeah I'll read about him.  Hm.  Fascinating."  Of course, this is still true, no matter how strange it seems in print.  My point is, however, the other reasons for reporting crime are so much more valid, that this doesn't seem to belong in the category.

( "But they may also be interested in the story of a sneak thief who broke into a poor widow's home and killed her much-loved cat". Wow.  Thanks for that cheerful scenario.  I'm sure we'll all keep our eyes out for such a lucky scene.  Geesh.)

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3 Comments

You make a good point about how consulting the news can make people overly fearful of horrible crimes happening to them. However, I think the manual is pointing out the basic principles behind reporting on crime, and not necessarily the reality. In a world where crime was never reported, people might fail to take even very simple precautions like locking their doors when they go out of the house or locking their cars. Maybe that's an extreme example, but I think the basic intention behind crime reporting is solid. However, news reporters have learned that manipulating their audience's emotions gets them to read or tune in more, so they have excessive coverage of crime that hooks people based on their fear of the crime happening to them. I think in an ideal world, reporters would strike a balance between keeping people properly informed and covering crime to such an extent that people have an unrealistic perception of how common it is.

Aja Hannah said:

About the second part, people may not be sadistic. They may identify with the criminal or sympathize like if the criminal were Captain Jack Sparrow or the man from Three Strangers to be hung.

These people were heros to some. People would want to read about their hero being captured and what his punishment was and what he was doing to appeal or avoid it.

Josie Rush said:

Matt, I agree that they're talking about an ideal world. It's unfortunate that there's really no way to acheive this balance. The news (rightly) reports odd occurences. However, as I said, some people do not take this into consideration, and look at the news as a completely accurate representation of everyday life. These ppl will be under the impression that others are murdered or stolen from in their community every day. This isn't the media's fault necessarily, but it does make it difficult to attain that idealized form of information sharing.
Aja, my point was more that the fact "criminals are fascinating to read about" probably shouldn't be posted under "reasons for reporting crime." Even if the criminals were downright boring, there are still victims and the circumstances to make the situation fascinating. Listing "criminals are fascinating" under reasons for reporting makes it seem as though reporters wouldn't write about a crime if the criminal was too mundane. While this isn't really the case, I just think this reason for reporting crime sent the wrong message and/or needed clarification.

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