Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dealing With Crime in the News

There are different ways of dealing with crime in the news media. At one extreme is the "True Crime" approach, in which lurid headlines are splashed across the front pages and gruesone details shared with readers and viewers. The other extreme is to leave such items out of the news entirely.

I recall a headline years ago in which a man from my town was murdered. The headline in the local paper only reported that he "died unexpectedly. The editors felt that dragging out the young man's death across the pages of a town newspaper would put a local family through additional agony.

There are other reasons for glossing over crime stories. Some editors feel that such news is "beneath their dignity". Specialty newspapers and broadcast media can argue that crime is "not on their beat".

There is a middle approach. Some crime stories are brutal and sensational, yet an abberation from human nature. When I read a crime story, I ask myself whether I am indulging a morbid curiosity or whether I am either taking the pulse of society or learning to protect myself and my family.

A crime story in which details of a scam or an attack are divulged enables readers to be watchful and not fall prey to criminals. People need to be reminded periodically not to open their doors to strangers, not to give their social security numbers to people on the phone and other common sense precautions. A crime story can drive such a lesson home to readers.

A recent story about second graders in Oakland California who were acting out sexually in class with a teacher present raised a multitude of questions about whether children are being exposed to too much sex too soon. It might well lead to practical discussions in many homes about monitoring television and internet use.

There is a place for reporting crime stories. There is also a way to write such stories so they educate the public

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