editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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How newspapers can solve their “crime problem”

November 20th, 2007 · No Comments

Ok, so it didn’t take long for me to violate one of my own rules for this blog – thou shalt never point out a problem without offering a solution.

In my Monday post “On Sunday, murder is an easy sale,” I wrote about how I believe that TV news and newspapers are drawn to covering crime because the ease of such stories and because they draw viewers and sell newspapers. Specifically I wrote:

“But not all newspapers take this approach some . . . 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.


Upon further consideration, I decided that the above description of what other newspapers are doing does not equal a solution or even an alternative. I had spent too much time on the problem and not enough on the solution.

So here are some places to start if you think your newsroom has a “crime problem”:

  1. Perform a content analysis examining the number of crime-related stories compared to other stories that you print. How much space do you allot to these stories compared with the other topics? Analyze what pages crime stories appear on and in what sections.
  2. Ask yourself, how many voices do your crimes stories typically contain. Do you just have a police department spokesperson or are victims and members of impacted communities represented?
  3. Is your coverage limited to breaking news?
  4. Does your crime coverage typically focus on one geographic area?
  5. Do your stories tend to focus on specific communities?
  6. Are you doing follow-up stories?
  7. Are you taking advantage of your website?

With these answers, you can start thinking about making changes. Here are some ideas:

  1. Not every incident deserves a story; sometimes a brief will suffice. Ask yourself how many people did the incident affect. Did it impact the community at large? If the answer to either of these questions is a no, consider a brief.
  2. Not every story deserves front page placement. Ask yourself how many readers would likely read the story? Would you?
  3. Reporters believe that quoting police and prosecutors will build better sources and yield better stories. But quoting real people will have a richer and deeper payoff. In par, it will show residents that you care about the community.
  4. Breaking news is exciting and fun, but trends mean more to a community. Likely you will be able to uncover a rash of robberies or car break-ins well before the police reveal it.
  5. Every newspaper has a geographic area where crime is typically centered and as a result, these are the easier stories to cover. But crime is happening throughout your coverage area, it just might be different types of crimes and it might be harder to report.
  6. Be aware of generalizing your coverage within one community, you’ll be doing them and yourselves a disservice. Crime moves around, follow the movement.
  7. You probably don’t realize just how often your readers are wondering what happened to a story that they read in your publication. Let them know the status of an arrest, the life a family is living after a fire or the status of a store recovering from a robbery or theft.
  8. Most significantly, GO ONLINE. Oh the places you can go! Put the police blotter on your website and you can show where crimes take place on a google or yahoo map. Package your stories with tips: how to safeguard your home; how to avoid being a target for a robber; how to protect your home?

I know these aren’t the only answers and they won’t necessarily work right out of the box for everyone, but they are a place to start. So, how are you handling your crime coverage?

Tags: Best Practices · Mission

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