If there is murder, deadly fires and general mayhem leading your local newscast, it MUST be Sunday night. Despite the bleak nature of these types of stories they are the ones TV news often relies on. And like TV, newspapers also have a tendency to depend on crime reporting.
Why do they do it? Because basic crime reporting is, dare I say, easy reporting. It is easy and it has a high return on investment, these stories draw viewers and sell newspapers.
Crime reporting is one the few beats that can nearly be put on auto drive. Newsrooms have anywhere from one to as many as three crime reporters who in most cases sit at their desks listening to police radios on scanners, watching the feeds that come across paging services (such as the Breaking News Network) and waiting for police to fax completed police reports. Occasionally, they make a round of phone calls to police departments to ask if there is “anything going on” or “anything newsworthy.”
Many crime stories can be reported, written and produced all without leaving the office, and in many cases they are:
- A reporter receives a police report via fax or email.
- He/She checks the archives for prior stories and then calls the police department’s public information officer or the local prosecutor to get the answer to any outstanding questions.
- Maybe a reverse phone directory or online phone directory is checked and a call is made for a “live” quote.
- A photographer can be assigned to shoot the scene or memorial and graphics can produce a locator map and the package is done – print or broadcast.
As I said, it can be easy.
But not all newspapers take this approach some, including the venerable New York Times, make an effort to balance their coverage, covering crime when necessary and putting it on the front page or section front page only when it is necessary. But this approach takes more time, planning and in some cases, manpower; it is far from easy and is more of a challenge on the weekend.
And as long as people continue to tune in and buy papers, many newsrooms will continue to take the easy way out.