Thursday, January 22, 2009

Media coverage of recent shootings

I ask that local media outlets adopt a new standard for news stories involving homicides. Either start using the phrase "north side" when a killing takes place on that end of town, or stop using the phrase "south side" when a killing takes place on my end of town.

In the past, whenever someone was killed south of downtown, the local newspapers tended to use the phrase "south side" either in the headline or the opening paragraph. But the phrase "north side" was not usually used when people were shot north of Main Street. While it is true that more homicides take place on the south side of Fort Wayne than on the north side, the perceived hazards outweigh the actual risk, which is a very small risk. People's perception of the south side of Fort Wayne is greatly affected by media coverage. When readers see "south side" in a news article about a killing, they often mentally associate the whole area with a single tragedy. We all agree that it would be irrational for a person to be afraid to drive out to Pine Valley just because someone was murdered at IPFW. It's equally irrational to be afraid to drive to Waynedale just because somebody was killed on South Anthony.

Here's some examples of what I am talking about. Three homicides have taken place so far this year, and all of them appear to be justified. The Journal Gazette noted that the first shooting took place "in a quiet near-northeast-side neighborhood". This is as if they were trying to reassure the good folks of DuPont Rd that they were never in any danger.
For the second killing, the headline says that it took place on Coliseum Blvd, a road that stretches from north to south. You either have to recognize the Centennial Wireless and Payless stores shown in the accompanying photograph or read the whole article to know that it happened on the north side of town.
The headline for the third killing reads "Fatal shooting on south side". Considering that many people just skim the headlines, these people would be more likely to be aware of the location of the most recent killing than the location of the previous two. Consistency in the way crime is reported is needed to be fair to the honest people who live on both the north and south sides of Fort Wayne.

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