“Gannett launches a network-wide push to rework its crime coverage.” It’s about damn time. We advocated this more than 20 years ago, and we go a LOT further in our suggestions to make crime reporting more relevant, less racist and more useful to communities.
Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health research organization, launched the Reporting on Violence project throughout California in 1997 and expanded it to interested newsrooms across the U.S. in 2001. The second edition of “The Reporting on Violence: A Handbook for Journalists” came out in 2001. The first, which came out in 1997, was distributed to more than 950 journalists and 100 newsrooms. I wrote the handbooks. Dr. Lori Dorfman, BMSG’s director, edited them. Together, we led the project, which was funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and The California Wellness Foundation.
The immediate response was great—we did workshops in all the major newsrooms in California. But things didn’t change the way I’d hoped. A few news organizations included a few contextual questions in their reporting from time to time, but none changed their crime reporting. The data we gathered inspired the San Jose Mercury News (more info below) to do a series on domestic violence, but despite reporters asking to develop a domestic violence beat, the editors said no.
Remarkably, the basics of crime reporting haven’t changed much since the late 1890s (essentially, the man-bites-dog approach). Why is it taking so long for this change to happen? The irony is that although change is journalism’s bread and butter, getting the journalism community to modernize is like moving a mountain with a spoon and a bucket.
I am a longtime health, science and technology journalist. When I wrote the Reporting on Violence handbook, I’d been covering the epidemiology of violence off and on for several years, after the CDC began taking the same approach to violence and violence prevention as they had with smoking and smoking prevention, and motor vehicle accidents and their prevention. I realized that my profession was part of the problem in how the general public understood violence, and I wanted to do something about it.
Now Gannett is beginning to make some rudimentary changes. After two years of experimenting in its news organizations in Rochester, NY, and Phoenix, AZ, Gannett is rolling out these revisions across its 250 newsrooms.Continue reading