Police-media relations may have bottomed out following a series a controversial police-involved deaths beginning last August, when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Journalists covering the resulting unrest were harassed, bullied and arrested by police. “Unfortunately, what I saw in Ferguson was a total disregard for the First Amendment rights of journalists,” says Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Osterreicher, a Buffalo attorney and former photojournalist, was dispatched to Ferguson by the board of his 7,000-member organization after what he calls the “catch-and-release” arrests of journalists there. Some 50 media organizations joined the NPPA in decrying police obstruction of the media.
Breaking-news journalism, linked inextricably to criminal justice beats, is changing—driven by unrelenting micro-deadlines and financial pressures that have whittled staffs and forced editors and producers to rethink their newsroom structures and news-gathering processes.
Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS), based in Washington, D.C., which serves 14 daily newspapers and nine television stations owned by its media chain, decided to take a fresh look at murder in America, particularly the growing percentage of killings that go unsolved and the possibility that law enforcement authorities are overlooking serial killers. The result was a powerful series of stories that appeared on its website between May 23 and November 26, 2010. Led by reporter Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard built a database of 525,000 homicides around the U.S. over the 29 years between 1980 and 2008. Working with the database, Hargrove was able to pinpoint previously unacknowledged serial murder cases around the U.S. Hargrove explained how he did it, and how other journalists can use the data, to Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and contributing editor of The Crime Report. Read the full case study HERE.
A team of five reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer has been documenting serious problems in Philadelphia’s court system for more than two years for a groundbreaking series which found that the city had the highest violent crime rate among America’s 10 largest cities and among the lowest conviction rates for big cities.
“We have to be out there as the protectors, exposing problems, fixing things, and improving lives. It's not enough to cover, we have to uncover?and hold the powerful accountable.” –Adrienne Roark, former news director, WFOR-CBS4 Miami In 2009, CBS “60 Minutes” partnered with WFOR-CBS4, the CBS-owned & operated television station in Miami, for a joint investigation of Medicare fraud, which federal authorities claim costs U.S. taxpayers $60 billion a year. The first report, the result of five months of research by WFOR-CBS4 reporter Stephen Stock was aired on October 26, 2009. A “60 Minutes” segment, which was based in part on Stock's research, aired one day earlier on October 25, 2009.
In a series called “True Crime,” published between September 27 and December 18, 2009, the paper sought to depict the truth about crime in their city through an innovative mapping project. Read the case study. Click here and the document will download to your desktop. Learn how to create your own crime database. Click here and the document will download to your desktop.
In 2008, there was no dominant event in crime and justice for the news media to cover, according to a report prepared by Criminal Justice Journalists on Media Crime Coverage in the United States. Due to the lack of a sensational case, such as O.J. Simpson or Laci Petersen, blanketing news coverage, the study explores some of the major crime and justice issues that made the news in 2008 and assess how well or poorly the news media covered them. Access a copy of the study here.
A Public At Risk: A look at South Carolina’s Broken Probation and Parole System
A project of the Center on Media, Crime & Justice
and Criminal Justice Journalists
University of Mississippi
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Crime Reporting Case Study: Probation and Parole
Deb Halpern Wenger, University of Mississippi
“Criminals free on probation or parole kill, rob and rape all too often in a state where repeat offenders routinely are released into a system that is too under-manned and ill-equipped to maintain control.”
Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith
The Post and Courier
It’s estimated that two-thirds of America’s criminals under correctional supervision are living in the community, not in prisons.According to research by the Pew Center on the States, one in 45 American adults is on probation or parole.
More than a year before the Pew Center’s study was released; investigative reporters Doug Pardue and Glenn Smith of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina began looking into why their state seemed to have so many cases of violent crimes being committed by people who had been paroled or placed on probation.
Pardue, who also edited the five-part series, “Law and Disorder,” said the first thing to overcome in tackling this story was the “it’s not new” bias.Stories on individual crimes often note that the accused person was on probation or parole, but journalists rarely take a systemic look at how the justice system decides who should be in custody and for how long.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started to look at something and a reporter says, ‘We’ve already done that.’
Crime Reporting Case Study: Mortgage Fraud Deborah Potter, NewsLab “This was happening all over and everybody was in on the scheme.” –Patrick Scott, business editor, The Charlotte Observer For years, it seemed the sky was the limit for real estate in Charlotte, N.C. The second largest U.S. banking center after New York City was one of the nation's fastest growing areas in the early 2000s. But the boom in home sales was driven in part by subprime loans that resulted in a wave of foreclosures. In 2007, a year-long investigation by The Charlotte Observer found the surge in foreclosures “had as much to do with the builder as it did the borrower,” said business editor Patrick Scott. The builder was Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA, at the time one of the ten largest home builders in the country.