Articles about "Police and crime reporting"


Crime coverage in Chicago may be too good

Chicago is widely known as “Chiraq” or the “murder capital” even though its murder rate is much lower than in past years and in many other cities. Ironically this may be a function of local media’s attempts to do a better job reporting on homicides and crime

There was a time when reporters just didn’t cover many crime – or other — stories in the city’s low income, Black and Latino neighborhoods, noted veteran reporters at Poynter’s “Truth & Trust in the 21st Century” forum in Chicago Thursday. Now the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, DNAinfo and other media outlets make it a point to cover every murder in the city. But that means a lot of negative coverage about the city’s South and West sides, even as there are still relatively few other stories being reported on in these neighborhoods.


When you have 10 crime stories for every uplifting story like the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, noted DNAinfo reporter Darryl Holliday, “that’s not a good ratio.” “It says that’s all that’s happening, when that’s not the case,” continued Holliday, who is also co-founder of The Illustrated Press, which does journalism through comics.

But there are not necessarily bright lines between “good” and “bad” stories, countered author Alex Kotlowitz, pointing to the “This American Life” documentary on Chicago’s Harper High as an example.

The “centrifugal force of journalism,” as Kotlowitz described it, is to “understand why kids make the decisions they make … to understand what pushes and pulls people.”

Asiaha Butler  (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Asiaha Butler (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

But panelist Asiaha Butler told Kotlowitz she was unable to listen the Harper High documentary all the way through, since she felt it portrayed an unrealistically negative and “dramatic” view of the neighborhood where she has lived most of her life and leads the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.). She said the many untold stories in Englewood include the role of grandparents and great grandparents and the strong intergenerational structure that underpins the neighborhood.

“I’m not dodging bullets all the time,” said Butler, who with R.A.G.E. airs news on a website and a public access TV program. “You tell your own narrative, you don’t wait until the media comes.”

Like Butler, audience members at the Truth & Trust event implored reporters to do more to find and tell a wider range of stories.

“There are people who help people take out their garbage, who clean up the community … who help elders cross the street,” said Rondayle Sanders, a fifth-grader at the Bradwell School of Excellence whose class wrote an op-ed published in The Chicago Tribune presenting a fuller view of their neighborhood. “We want you to know more positive things about the South Side.”

When Sanders asked for advice in reporting, Butler suggested he start at his school “talking to the janitor, the lunch lady, hear their stories and highlight them.

In some ways it should be easier than ever for journalists to find and report a wide range of stories in different neighborhoods, since social media and new media have turned journalism from a specialized profession into an act practiced by the masses, as Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs, put it.

McBride noted that these days rather than acting as gatekeepers of information and finding stories on their own, mainstream journalists are more often picking up on the stories being reported in blogs, community outlets and social media, “sorting through and magnifying” them.

But the financial crisis and budget cuts that have rocked the journalism world mean that even reporters with the best intentions struggle to get the time and space to tell the rich, multi-layered stories that do justice to a neighborhood.

“There’s no lack of these really great groups,” said Holliday. “But there are only so many journalists who can only do so many things.”

Linda Lutton (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Linda Lutton (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Kotlowitz noted that WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton, who was in the audience, was lucky to get substantial time to work on the Harper High story, a luxury relatively few full-time journalists are granted. Meanwhile from the audience veteran reporter Sally Duros pointed out that “good news stories are not news” or are viewed as “P.R.” by many.

Panelist Lolly Bowean, a Chicago Tribune reporter, noted that media outlets are financially and otherwise obligated to cover stories that draw readership and hence revenue. She said people often complain about the paper’s extensive coverage of rapper Chief Keef, but those are the stories that draw high numbers of views and comments.

“There has to be an appetite from the audience, from the public saying we need these stories,” said Bowean. “If there is no one paying 50 cents for that paper or going online to get it, then there is no us!”

Meanwhile panelists and audience members stressed that even as technology opens up possibilities for new and innovative ways to tell stories, there is still a crucial role for old-fashioned watchdog, accountability journalism. Reporters noted that police officers are often reticent with information about cases, and that in Chicago only about a quarter of murders are ever officially solved. The “triangle” of relationships between police, community members and journalists — as audience member David Schaper of NPR put it — is typically tense and fraught.

Reporters need to scrutinize official statistics and reports, the journalists noted, applying the old adage “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” to information from the police.

There is clearly no easy answer to the myriad of challenges and contradictions discussed at the Truth & Trust gathering, which was hosted by CBS 2 Chicago anchor Jim Williams and also featured Tracy Swartz, reporter for the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye tabloid edition and Michael Lansu, an editor of the Chicago Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch project.

But the bottom line is that in order to achieve nuanced, rich coverage of neighborhoods that goes beyond the latest crime statistics, key factors are just that — truth and trust. Read more

Police Shooting Missouri

Cop to reporter: ‘You’re going to be in my jail cell tonight’

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories. Maybe it’s not really 10. Let’s not dwell on specifics.

  1. Reporters arrested, assaulted in Ferguson: Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly were arrested Wednesday night while covering the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. (Poynter) | They were working in a McDonald’s when police ordered them to leave. Both started documenting the transaction on their phones. Lowery said one cop slammed him into a soda fountain after his bag slipped off his shoulder and he ducked down to get it; Reilly said a cop pushed him into a plate-glass window and “sarcastically apologized.” (HuffPost) | In his account of his arrest, Lowery writes that he told an arresting officer “This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.” The cop, Lowery reports, replied, “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.” (WP) | Today’s Washington Post front page | Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page | HuffPost splash: “BAGHDAD USA” | Front pages, as always, courtesy the Newseum.
  2. Other reporters say they were injured while on the job for this story: MSNBC reporter Trymaine Lee was tear-gassed while covering protests Wednesday. (@trymainelee) | Al Jazeera journalists got tear-gassed, too. (Vox) | The St. Louis American says cops pointed weapons at two of its reporters. (@StLouisAmerican) | NYT freelancer Whitney Curtis was reportedly hit by a rubber bullet Monday. (@PDPJ) | Antonio French, the St. Louis alderman who has provided citizen coverage of the protests through social media, was also arrested. (HuffPost) | You’ll hear people complaining today that “the media” is focusing too much on injuriries sustained by its own, or that Lowery and Reilly, as Dana Loesch trolled, “hijacked the light onto themselves.” | Such criticisms are easily dealt with. Elise Foley: “I love the accusations that @ryanjreilly and @WesleyLowery got themselves arrested to get attention BY SITTING IN A McDONALD’S.” (@elisefoley) | But as Lowery told the Post’s Mark Berman last night (in a story that has been, unfortunately, updated to exclude the quote), most people in Ferguson who “don’t have as many Twitter followers as I have” can’t call Jeff Bezos when they get arrested. (I’m paraphrasing because this fantastic quote is gone. Here’s my best account of it from last night.) (WP) | Or as Huffington Post reporter Jason Cherkis tweeted: “Makes you wonder what #Ferguson police do when they think no one is watching.” (@jasoncherkis)
  3. Meanwhile, Nate Silver remembered that time he ate a burrito in jail: Thanks for the update. (Gawker)
  4. Sally Quinn remembers Lauren Bacall: Through the lens of the time Bacall and Ben Bradlee disappeared into the dunes in Amagansett. “It was no consolation when Betty came over to me as we were leaving and confided in me that Ben was the only man who had ever reminded her of Bogey.” (WP)
  5. How to build a non-diverse newsroom: “The biggest factor that leads to a homogenous newsroom is an over-reliance of personal recommendations,” Judd Legum says. (BuzzFeed)
  6. Tough times at The Tennessean: “In off-the-record conversations — staffers would only talk anonymously for fear of jeopardizing their chances to get a job in the new newsroom — Tennessean personnel described the climate at 1100 Broadway as ‘horrific’ and ‘morose.’” (Nashville Scene)
  7. An update on Joseph Hosey: James Risen’s bid to get the DOJ off his back is getting lots of deserved attention, but Hosey, a Patch editor who obtained police reports on a grisly murder in Joliet, Ill., still faces jail and fines for refusing to name a source. (CJR) | From last year: A quick overview of the Hosey case. (Poynter)
  8. Plagiarism punished: Dylan Byers: “Vice Media has dismissed i-D writer Jack Borkett after he posted an item about Lauren Bacall that lifted the title and portions of text from a New York Magazine article.” (Politico)
  9. The Ann Arbor Chronicle brought in about $100,000 a year: “That was enough to pay the Chronicle’s expenses and to allow [Publisher Mary] Morgan and [Editor Dave] Askins to make a living, but if they wanted to bring on additional full-time help to ease their workload, Askins estimated that existing revenue would need to increase by four times to fund a full-time staff of five.” (Nieman)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Fiona McCann, Byron Beck, Cornelius Swart and Shelby Sebens have joined GoLocalPDX, a Portland news website that will launch later this month. McCann will be a senior editor at the site; she was an editor at Storyful. Beck will be the site’s features editor. He has written for a variety of publications in the Portland area, including The Oregonian and Willamette Week. Swart will be the site’s director of content. He was the founder and publisher of the Portland Sentinel. Sebens will be lead investigative journalist for GoLocalPDX. Formerly, she was a correspondent for Reuters. (GoLocalPDX) | Michele Promaulayko will be editor-in-chief of Yahoo Health. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of Women’s Health. Katie Brown will be editor-in-chief of Yahoo DIY Crafts Magazine. She was the host of “Katie Brown Workshop” on Create TV. Sarah Cristobal will be editor of Yahoo Style. Previously, she was the editor of V Magazine. She will be joined by Nick Axelrod, former editorial director of Into the Gloss and Andrea Oliveri, a celebrity bookings director. Both will be contributing editors. Bifen Xu will be special projects director for the site, focusing on photography. Formerly, she was a producer at W Magazine. (Yahoo) | Job of the day: The National Journal is looking for a reporter. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: Read more


Public usually has right to know names of officers who used deadly force, court rules

Los Angeles Times

“Vague safety concerns” don’t trump the public’s right to know the names of officers involved in shootings, the Supreme Court of California ruled Thursday. The justices were responding to a case that arose from the Los Angeles Times’ efforts to learn the names of officers in Long Beach, California, who shot Douglas Zerby, a 35-year-old man holding a garden hose nozzle, 12 times.

The Long Beach Police Officers Association argued that releasing the names “would endanger officers and their families because home addresses and telephone numbers can be obtained on the Internet,” Maura Dolan reports in the L.A. Times.

The ruling says that “if it is essential to protect an officer‘s anonymity for safety reasons or for reasons peculiar to the officer’s duties” — if the officer is undercover, perhaps — “then the public interest in disclosure of the officer‘s name may need to give way.” But that didn’t apply in the Zerby case, the court said. Read more

Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. Sheriff's officials say Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The right way to publish a killer’s deranged manifesto

There’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.

But don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t want to annotate it like this.)

Art Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, advocates the same approach when considering the publication of medical research produced by Nazi doctors. By explaining the flaws behind information, we contribute to an improving body of knowledge while neutralizing the potential of perpetuating harm.

“Make it clear this is the raving of a devious and delusional mind,” Caplan said of Rodger’s manifesto. “Help us understand what compels someone to be so hateful and mysogonistic.”

Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did, by labeling the killer’s ravings as those of a lunatic. Or you can point out the many places misogynists turn to reinforce their hate, the way the Soraya Nadia McDonald did for The Washington Post in this piece.

Journalists who repeat the names of childhood acquaintances that Rodger faulted for his personal misery have a particular responsibility to counteract that blame in their reporting.

When we leave out the additional context that would condemn Rodger’s logic, we run the risk of legitimizing his rationale. It seems ludicrous, until you consider the fact that misogyny is the root of many crimes.

Journalists asked similar questions when The Washington Post and The New York Times, at the request of the FBI, published the Unabomber’s manifesto in 1995, hoping that someone might be able to identify him (which worked.) That 35,000-word screed against technology, equality, and progressive causes remains available today. Read more

Students are escorted as they leave the campus of the Franklin Regional School District after more then a dozen students were stabbed by a knife wielding suspect at nearby Franklin Regional High School on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Murrysville, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The suspect, a male student, was taken into custody and is being questioned. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

How to cover what comes next in the Pennsylvania school stabbing case

Pittsburgh-area newsrooms now must live through the reality of covering a mass casualty attack, just as journalists near Fort Hood, Texas, did last week.

They will seek answers about how a student at the Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, Penn., slashed and stabbed 20 people Wednesday morning. For months, journalists will tell stories of heroism and panic, of missed signals and critiques of school security. Sadly, other journalists have been through this. I asked them to help guide us through the coverage ahead.

Lessons from Newtown

Josh Kovner-Reporter, Hartford Courant

Hartford Courant reporter Josh Kovner co-authored the paper’s reports that profiled Adam Lanza, the troubled 20-year-old who committed the second deadliest school shooting in American history. Kovner’s and Alaine Griffin’s reporting of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School was part of a partnership with PBS Frontline.

I asked Kovner what advice he had for journalists investigating the stabbings and trying to understand the mind of the young man who is accused of doing them.

“You have to adjust your expectations,” Kovner told me by phone. “You may get close. You may identify a number of factors but to try to figure out what is in somebody’s mind is by definition a losing proposition.” Kovner said he and his paper did piece together an understanding of Lanza’s mental health issues, his likes and dislikes, his childhood. But key questions about the shooting cannot be answered.

“Why was it December 14th and not the 13th or the following February?” Kovner wondered. “If you think you are going to get answers like that or your editors think you should, you should know better before you start,” Kovner warned. These cases never produce clean, simple answers.

Kovner said journalists who report stories like Newtown, and now the Franklin Regional Senior High School will endure public criticism. “People will ask how you dignify such a monster by even mentioning their name,” Kovner said.

And he has an answer to their question. In the Newtown case, he says, the investigation into what led up to the shooting has taken more than a year and has a long way to go. “But remember that in a year later, and for another year into the future, the gaps and deficiencies and missed red flags are going to be consuming mental health advocates as they figure out how to change and reform. But they will initiate reform, and that is what you have to keep your eyes on.”

In fact, Kovner said, that hope for improving mental health and early detection was a key line that he and other Courant reporters used to encourage people close to Lanza to speak up. “It helps if you are genuinely sorry for what has happened to the person you are speaking with and you can tell them that.” Kovner continued, “Early on, our calling card was ‘there is a lot of misinformation out there and we are setting it straight.’” Later, Kovner said he would explain to people that there was hope that deeper understanding might spark reform.

And, Kovner said, journalists investigating the Murrysville case would be smart not to get so caught up in the police investigation. When police say they know who the attacker is, the deeper story is exploring holes in the more complicated hidden background. “They are far less a police case than they are a case for public health, mental health committees and experts. The police angle is fairly upfront — the police angle is not the most important angle. What happened that led up to this?”

Framing coverage

Newsrooms often invent banners or themes for their coverage that they use to package their work. These themes can set a tone for how a community thinks of itself. Without debating the wisdom or effectiveness of these attempts to package coverage, my advice is to be careful of the tone you use, in wording, in the design of the logo(s), and, for broadcasters, in the music that you use going into and out of coverage.

Be especially careful about the adjectives you choose, including “tragedy, horror, terror” and such. What happened is bad enough without journalists adding to the sorrow.

Minimize harm

Instead of 20 of us journalists knocking on a parent’s door for a photo, why not pool?

Mass casualty stories can be an opportunity for newsrooms to work together to minimize the harm they cause, even while staying competitive and aggressive in their coverage.

Every newsroom will want images of all of the attack victims. If the newsrooms work together and pool the images they obtain from families, they will not have to answer dozens of phone calls and door knocks from local, national and international media. Think of how you might react if a reporter came to you and told you that releasing a photo once, to the pool, you could avoid a dozen more journalists. Compassion and journalism do not have to be in competition with each other.

Lessons learned

Angie Kucharski-CBS News vice president for media strategy

Angie Kucharski is CBS Television Network’s vice president-media strategies. In 1999, she was the news director at KCNC in Denver when two high school students opened fire inside Columbine High School.

I asked her to draw on her experience to help newsrooms who are covering the school stabbings in Murrysville, Penn.. She said:

“Remember you are there for the community. Your community is looking for answers, you have to help the public to understand step-by-step what happened. The competitive nature of this is not as important as being accurate, giving perspective and context.

“These things seem to happen somewhere else. But you are part of a community where it is happening now. You are going to have to come to terms that these victims and families are kids and friends and neighbors that you know.

“Understand that over months of coverage the families and teachers that become the face of this story become public figures and they all have stories. But they are not public figures by choice.

“Maintain that relationship with the community even though there will be a frenzy of coverage initially.

“You don’t have to be the only one making decisions about your coverage. Get help. Sometimes you may forget that you have a lot of experts in your community including child psychologists and law enforcement experts. They are there as an added tool to help you understand the effect of your decisions. For example, in the days ahead, even where you fly news helicopters and how you fly helicopters in the area could retraumatize victims.”

Every market is different, but in Denver, the newsrooms understood there was competition, but as local media we “stand for the better qualities of what we did,” she said.

Make decisions about how to cover the school re-opening, Kucharski said. The last thing these kids saw were live trucks and helicopters as they left the school. Think about how much equipment you’ll really need when school resumes.

Give your staff some time to recover. What is amazing about the people with whom we share the passion of the craft is that they will give you their all, she said. But you can’t assume that your staff can shut off their emotions. It will hit them that they are covering their neighbors and friends. Sometimes the best gift you can give them is to tell them to go see their families and give their kids a hug.

Avoid Easy Answers

Bill Dedman-investigative journalist

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bill Dedman has dissected Secret Service studies of students who commit violent act. Several times over the years, Dedman has reminded us all that we should avoid trying to find easy answers as to why a student would harm others.

Among Dedman’s tips:

• There is no profile for school attackers. “The stereotypes of teens in Goth makeup or other types of dress are not useful in preventing attacks. Just as in other areas of security — workplace violence, airplane hijacking, even presidential assassination — too many innocent students will fit any profile you can come up with, and too many attackers will not.

“The demographic, personality, school history, and social characteristics of the attackers varied substantially,” the report said. Attackers were of all races and family situations, with academic achievement ranging from failing to excellent.

• Attackers don’t “just snap.” Resist the “nobody knew this would happen” explanation.  When students attack, the violence usually follows a long pattern of behaviors, clues, planning. Many have displayed violent behavior that required, or should have required intervention.

• Most attackers are not mentally ill. In fact, the Secret Service found that a third of school attackers suffered from a diagnosed mental illness. Many attackers had suffered with depression and suicidal thoughts, however.

How often are knives used?

Media reports have said the attacker this week used kitchen knives. Many cities and states have laws that regulate what knives may be carried in public. Generally, the laws have to do with blade length, switchblades and where a person may have a knife. For example, some cities forbid them in public areas such as parks.

The FBI says about 1,600 Americans die from knife violence each year. The figure has been declining steadily since 2006. Knives are used to kill people far more often than rifles or shotguns but far less than handguns.

Stay Factual About School Violence

Attacks like the one at Franklin Regional Senior High School might lead you to think that school violence is worse than ever and that more kids are carrying weapons.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opposite is true.

This week, the journalism investigative group called RetroReport released a documentary project showing that projections years ago that juvenile crime was rising and growing more violent was simply wrong. Years ago, the phrase “superpredator” became shorthand for a growing fear that kids were out of control and there was reason to be afraid. RetroReport looked backward at those reports to show the superpredator predictions never panned out.

The CDC says among a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12:

• 32.8 percent reported being in a physical fight in the 12 months preceding the survey; the prevalence was higher among males (40.7 percent) than females (24.4 percent)

• 16.6 percent reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or club) on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey; the prevalence was higher among males (25.9 percent) than females (6.8 percent)

• 5.1 percent reported carrying a gun on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey; the prevalence was higher among males (8.6 percent) than females (1.4 percent).

Look at this data table from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, compiled every year. You will see that students report school violence, threats and bullying. The percentage of students who say they have carried a weapon onto school grounds is flat or has decreased over the last two decades.

You can “get local” by looking at youth violence and injury stats state-by-state.

The government has many other resources to help you get beyond the emotions of the story:

Think ahead 

As hard as it is to get through daily news coverage when mass violence comes to your town, you have to think ahead.

  • How will you decide whether to show up on the day the school reopens?
  • How will you use 9-1-1 calls? What will you not use, and why?
  • Package your coverage into a repository online. It will become a destination years from now as the public searches to understand this event.
  • How can you produce content especially focused toward students and parents?
  • When will you stop using file and archive images of this incident? Under what conditions would you reuse them?
  • How will you cover any legal/criminal proceedings in this case considering that it involves a juvenile?
  • How will you react if victims’ funds pop up asking for financial help to offset medical bills of the victims? What safeguards will you insist on being in place to be sure any money donated goes where it should?
Read more

No-knock policy bars TV station staff from rapping on crime suspects’ doors

A Houston television station is telling its staff not to knock on the doors of crime suspects. The station issued a memo saying it is too big a risk to journalists’ safety, but others see the move as a way for stations to protect themselves legally. And the president of the Society of Professional Journalists says such a broad order may result in weaker journalism that could be unfair to people accused of crimes.

KTRK-TV Houston News Director David Strickland issued the order to his staff after  reporter Demond Fernandez knocked on the door of a man accused of child sex abuse. The man told the TV crew to turn off the camera (which they didn’t) then he produced a gun.

Strickland wrote to his staff:

I know this will come off as opportunistic in the wake of today but I’ll allow my vanity to take the hit.

Since the Demond “knock on the door gun incident” from earlier this year, Don Kobos and I have been discussing the merits of knocking on doors of crime suspects. In short, we just don’t see the need to do it as the risk to reward ratio does not justify it. It’s just a sound-bite.

From this point forward reporters are not to go to a suspect’s house and knock on the door seeking comment. Producers and Managers are prohibited from ordering reporters and photographers from this type of news gathering.

As for other stories not involving a suspect, if the reporter or photographer thinks there is an editorial need to cold call knock on someone’s door they must get a manager’s permission first.

I know there are always circumstances that will frustrate this rule. In those cases, please discuss this with a manager and we will figure it all out.

It’s just not worth getting someone hurt over a sound-bite.

I’m sorry for not sending this out quicker.

Strickland told me he could not comment on the memo but sources have confirmed its authenticity.

This is no small matter. Journalists in newsrooms big and small tell me constantly that the “door-knock” is the part of their job they dread and hate the most. In addition to the danger, they say they feel like vultures.

Attorney Darrell Phillips, a former journalist whose practice includes working with journalists on contract and employment issues, told me in an email exchange that KTRK’s new directive provides important protection for the journalist AND for the station.

“The memo sets a policy that has a clear practical effect,” he wrote. “Reporters at that station are not likely to feel any anxiety about whether they’re going to have to take a risk to impress their employers. More importantly, I think it clearly protects them from a producer who instructs them to ‘go’ when they are not comfortable going.”

But Phillips points out that the memo also could, in theory, limit the station’s liability if a journalist ignores the memo and put himself or herself in harm’s way. (It is important to note that Phillips is not suggesting KTRK is trying to do anything other than keep its staff safe.) Phillips says when a station issues a directive not to do something, and a journalist does it anyway and gets hurt, the station might successfully say it has no liability.

Phillips writes: “Here is what makes this policy interesting, Al. If I work at KTRK and I decide to go anyway, despite the clear mandate from my employer not to knock, then a court is likely to find that I am acting outside the “scope of my employment” and that the employer is not liable for anything that happens to me when I am acting outside the policy.” (Phillips added the underline for emphasis.)

He said, “If they (the journalists) do the work and get hurt, after the issuance of the policy, I think if I were the station’s lawyer I would argue that the station is not liable at all.”

So why wouldn’t more stations adopt this policy? Phillips says nobody wants to be seen as taking a  “non-competitive” position. Bosses might resist sending a signal that they might be willing to take a pass on aggressively going after a big story.

I asked David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, to take a look at the memo. Cuillier told me that broadcast journalists should reconsider how they approach people they want to interview in less than pleasant circumstances.

“What sets people off is seeing that TV camera,” Cuillier said. “In the KTRK video, the man said to get the camera away from him. In my journalism career I have knocked on a lot of doors and I have never had anybody go ballistic like that. The camera is really what is setting people off.”

Cuillier said if journalists adopt a “no-knock” policy, they will have to be sure they provide a way for the people that are the subject of their stories to speak if they wish to. “It seems to me the people have a right to comment when it involves them.”

Cuillier says if journalists see the door-knock as “a visual technique to enhance the drama of a story, that it is more about pumping the ratings rather than giving the person the right to respond…then sure, don’t do it anymore. Find other ways to make the story compelling. No need to risk reporters’ lives just to pump ratings. But that’s not what it should be about – it should be about letting the source have a say, a right of rebuttal or explanation.” Read more


Reporter undergoes deployment of Taser technology

The Herald-Journal

Daniel Gross of the (Spartanburg, S.C.) Herald-Journal took a citizen’s police academy course and volunteered to feel what it’s like to have a Taser deployed upon him.

He remembers the experience:

I recall instantly feeling an endless, relentless, sheer and utter pain jolting through my body.

Two sharp prongs felt as if they went deep under my skin, tearing havoc throughout my insides for five continuous seconds. Those five seconds felt like five years.

In the video below, you can see Gross lie on the ground afterward while the cops try to soothe him. “Ready to go again?” one of them asks him, presumably joking.

Jim Spellman, at the time a CNN producer, got zapped by a Taser for a 2008 segment. Spellman told Nicole Lapin it “hurt like the dickens.”

In his account of the Taser incident, Gross advised readers to “think twice about fleeing from or fighting with an officer” equipped with a Taser. “Take it from me; it’s not worth that indescribable pain,” he writes.

Incidentally, the stun gun’s manufacturer objects to the use of the word Taser as a verb or a noun, preferring it be used as an adjective preceding the phrase “conducted electrical weapon.”

“Instead of, ‘The officer shot his taser’ use, “The officer deployed his TASER CEW,” the company advises. Read more


Joe McGinniss, scourge of politicos and chronicler of crime, dies at 71

Associated Press | Los Angeles Times 

Stories about author-journalist Joe McGinniss are re-emerging in the wake of news that he died Monday in a Worcester, Mass., hospital from complications of prostate cancer.

He once moved next door to Sarah Palin to gather material for his unauthorized biography about her, according to the Associated Press. The subject of his best-selling book, “Fatal Vision,” sued him, claiming McGinniss tricked him into believing the convicted murderer was innocent. McGinniss’ publisher settled out of court for $325,000.

Associated Press reported:

The tall, talkative McGinniss had early dreams of becoming a sports reporter and wrote books about soccer, horse racing and travel. But he was best known for two works that became touchstones in their respective genres — campaign books (”The Selling of the President”) and true crime (”Fatal Vision”). In both cases, he had become fascinated by the difference between public image and private reality.

McGinniss worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer as a columnist while writing the book on Richard Nixon. Nixon’s campaign allowed him access, not suspecting he would turn out a book exposing the soul-less marketing of the presidential candidate. He was unflinching with Democrats as well, although his book, “The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy,” attributed imagined thoughts to Ted Kennedy and drew rounds of criticism, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On his website, the Times said, McGinniss wrote:

Penetrating the façade of institutions and people in public life can be an exhilarating but risky business. Sometimes the results are culturally ground-breaking and wildly popular, sometimes disillusioning and distinctly unpopular, sometimes personally heartbreaking.

He is survived among others by his wife Nancy Doherty and his son, author Joe McGinniss Jr. Read more


Ohio newspaper thief makes daring escape on bicycle

Dayton Daily News

On Sunday at 6 a.m., a man stole an “entire stack of Dayton Daily News that had just been delivered” to a service station, the Dayton Daily News reports. The suspect “was riding a bicycle and carried the newspapers in his hand.”

I have no sense of the intensity with which the Dayton Police Department is approaching this investigation, but they could take a tip or ten from the Dallas Morning News, which is perhaps a newspaper thief’s biggest nightmare.

In January, Marina Trahan Martinez published security video of someone appearing to steal David Miller’s copy of the Morning News. He’d lost 38 papers to the scoundrel, he told Trahan Martinez: “I now sleep with my cell phone beside me as it chimes when the motion detector is triggered.”

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For 7 years, L.A. Times’ Homicide Report has wrested stories from grim data

We’ve heard a lot about Chris and Laura Amico’s Homicide Watch – and for good reason. The site tracks homicides in Washington, D.C., (and, as of just over a year ago, Chicago and Trenton) from police report to conviction, giving victims and communities attention and coverage that local papers don’t have space or staff to.

It’s a valuable resource, the success of which has inspired other news outlets to embark on similar projects. But Homicide Watch had its own inspiration: the Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Report.

“When we started brainstorming Homicide Watch in 2009, we tried to draw lessons from existing crime mapping and homicide tracking projects,” Chris Amico says. “The two that always stick out are the L.A. Times’ Homicide Report and the Oakland Tribune’s Not Just a Number (we also drew ideas from the L.A. Times War Dead project). They really captured the human impact of violent crime and used data effectively to tell a larger story … They do great work.”

One big difference between the two: Homicide Watch is an independent startup; Homicide Report has the institutional support of the L.A. Times. Increasingly so – the paper recently invested more into the project. A dedicated, full-time reporter, Nicole Santa Cruz, was hired in June 2013. Last month, the Times upgraded and redesigned the site and kicked off its relaunch with a front-page story about Westmont, which has the dubious honor of being the most deadly neighborhood in Los Angeles County.

Were it not for HR’s data, L.A. Times assistant managing editor Megan Garvey says, “I don’t think we would’ve picked Westmont, honestly, I mean … it wasn’t even like it stood out to us in our heads.”

It did stand out in the data. Data team member Ken Schwencke ran several analyses of HR’s numbers to find LA County’s most deadly neighborhood. Over and over again, the 1.85 square mile unincorporated area between Inglewood and Watts came up.

“Every kind of piece of analysis I did pointed at Westmont,” he says.

Though the area was under-covered by both law enforcement and the media, its residents were all too aware of its violence. When reporting out the story, there was no shortage of people to talk to about the toll it had on their lives.

“Everywhere [Santa Cruz] turned there was someone who had something to say about what it was like to live there,” Garvey says. And in the story’s comments section, “people said ‘yeah, this has been going on for years but no one really pays attention to us. We’re sort of lost down here.’”

Covering those “lost” stories was the reason why crime reporter Jill Leovy created the Homicide Report in 2007. There simply wasn’t enough room in the newspaper to cover every single homicide in Los Angeles County, so only the ones deemed significant or newsworthy were mentioned. Homicide Report was a space to give every homicide its due. No one would be forgotten. And readers would be able to truly see the scope of violence in their city. It quickly became one of the paper’s most-read blogs and remains its most popular data project today.

Leovy stepped down after a year, but her passion has been passed on to her successors. It has to be: with 10 million people in Los Angeles County, it’s a big job, even though the numbers of homicides is almost half what it was when the blog began. Garvey has edited the blog since late 2008, often in her spare time.

“Watching reality TV and plugging in homicide data,” she says.

Last year, she told L.A. Times editor Davan Maharaj “either we need to invest in it or we need to stop it.” Maharaj chose the former, and Santa Cruz joined the team.

“She hit the ground running,” Garvey says. “She’s been out all over the community”

In fact, Santa Cruz was absent for the first half of our interview because she had to rush to the scene of a homicide (Robert Leonard Brewer, 21, stabbed to death in – yes – Westmont).

“Honestly there is not ever ever a typical day,” Santa Cruz says when she finally gets the chance to call in. One thing seems to remain the same: “I am not in the office very often.”

She says the hardest part of the job how big her coverage area is, both in population and area. Santa Cruz doesn’t just report out homicides as they happen – she meets with community leaders and law enforcement, goes to vigils and courtrooms, talks to gang interventionists and grieving families.

Santa Cruz has found those moments to be some of the most rewarding parts of the job, though they are, of course, always mired in tragedy.

“I’m really fortunate that I can walk up to someone’s house and they let me into their living room and they make me a cup of tea and they tell me these things about someone they really care about,” she says. “You’re really going into a community that is under-covered and under-served and bringing these stories to light.”

Homicide Report started as a blog. A simple map was soon added, and, after a 14-month dormancy, it was revived as a database in 2010, built by Schwencke. He also built the newest iteration, teaming up with designer Lily Mihalik. The map is now on the top of every page and the database can be filtered by more than one category at a time, which makes analyzing Homicide Report’s seven years’ of data much easier and shows off how valuable data-driven beat coverage can be.

“What we’re trying to do is create this really rich database that allows people to learn about the community on the whole,” Garvey says.

The blog posts have changed, too. The sidebar now has links to every story about the case, from the homicide to any arrests or convictions. Before, the post about the initial homicide would be updated with any developments, but that post was usually long-buried – it often takes years for homicide cases to go to trial.

Now, “you string together the information in a way that you’re providing a full account and not having to fish around for whatever happened,” Garvey says.

“You have all the information about one person’s death available on one page,” Schwencke adds.

It isn’t just readers who benefit from Homicide Report’s information. Some reporters have also integrated it into their articles. Garvey says she’d like to see it become “part of the DNA of reporting in the newsroom and not just a set-aside project. Have it inform how we operate as journalists … We’re not all the way there on that but I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Sure enough, one recent story used Homicide Report data to show how rare murders were in Burbank. Ruben Vives also uses its data to give more context to his reports.

But then, Vives knows quite a bit about the Report’s usefulness — he used to write it.

“That was my first reporting gig with the L.A. Times,” Vives says. “I got very addicted to covering every murder, just because one had hit close to home [Vives' uncle was murdered] and two, I just felt like it was an important thing that we needed to do as a paper.”

Vives says he learned a lot from the beat, a trial-by-fire boot camp in conducting interviews, building sources, following tips and just getting familiar with a coverage area through on-the-ground, shoe leather reporting. Those skills have served him well in the years since: Vives now covers southeastern Los Angeles for the paper, an area with which his time at the Report made him well acquainted.

And, oh yeah – one of Vives’ first big stories after moving off the Report was the city of Bell and its ridiculously high salaries for city officials. You may have heard of it: the series won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2011. (Leovy’s no slouch, either. Her book, Homicide Report: Understanding Murder in America, goes on sale in July.)

Homicide Report also shows how news outlets can engage with the communities they serve. Its comments section is pre-moderated, but both Garvey and Vives say they tried to be as hands-off as possible.

“This is a really raw subject, a really awful subject,” Garvey says. “What we want to do is create a conversation about these issues.”

“It shows people just by seeing the numbers and by seeing those red dots all over this one specific area, it just makes you aware of ‘wow, I had no idea how bad things were there,’” Vives says.

In the future, the Homicide Report will include data going back to 2000, giving reporters and readers even more context. Garvey also wants to find more ways to make the stories as comprehensive as possible – from the crime to the conviction. The redesign does that already, but keeping tabs on so many cases is difficult. The initial homicide information comes from the police department and coroner’s office, but there isn’t the same clearinghouse for arrests and trials. For now, Garvey says readers often help out, sending them updates. Schwencke is looking for ways to link homicides through police report and district attorney case numbers.

But their biggest hope for the future is that the Times continues its investment in the project.

“My dream for the Homicide Report is that in 20 years the L.A. Times is still doing it,” Garvey says. “And there are a lot fewer homicides.” Read more