May 29, 2007
By Jamie Satterfield
Published 5/27/2007

Bob Steele, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., isn’t surprised.

“The issue of race is so tension-filled and so volatile in our society that when there is a crime involving different races (and) when individuals spray some gasoline around that case, new flames emerge, and that prompts the national media to cover it,” he said.

Reynolds said those who complain that the national media would have reported on the case sooner had the victims been black and the assailants white could be right.

“I think it would have gotten a lot of national play faster if it had been a black couple kidnapped and killed by five white people,” he said.

That’s because the national media has a “template” for covering white-on-black crime but not the reverse, he said.

But Steele said he doesn’t think it’s that simple, citing a mix of factors that fuel media coverage.

“The uniqueness of the crime, the brutality of the crime, what the police and prosecutors say or don’t say can significantly drive what’s being published,” he said.

“What you hear from family members or families of the accused. If there are individuals speaking out freely and significantly, there are interviews and sound bites to be had. Inevitably, the amount of coverage is dictated by what else is going on in the news.”
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Bill Mitchell is CEO and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter. He was editor of Poynter Online from 1999 to 2009. Before joining Poynter, he…
Bill Mitchell

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