Does Race Count When The Media Decide Murder Coverage?


The weekly Washington City Paper has raised the issue of racial bias in coverager of murders by the Washington Post, the city’s major daily. This week, a white victim got front-page coverage one day and a follow-up the next. Word count: 1,266. The black victim rated a brief item, word count 68. It was unusual to see a homicide in the neighborhood where the white man was killed, says the Post. “The quality of being different or unusual is an important factor in making news judgments,” notes metro editor Robert McCartney. The white man was walking his dog when he ws killed–a detail that gave the story a high “random” rating in the Post formula, says the City Paper.

The black man was the victim of what cops told the Post was a drug-related crime. “It's more unusual and more newsy for a guy to be killed randomly out walking a dog than in a drug-related incident,” says McCartney. The editor noted that the Post prominently covered the death of a black woman who was killed last month by a stray bullet while watching television. “Race had nothing to do with this,” says McCartney. Some newspapers have taken what the City Paper calls the noble position that any homicide is a tragedy that deserves top billing in the daily newspaper. In 1993, for instance, the Chicago Tribune produced a yearlong, front-page series called “Killing Our Children,” documenting each of the area's 61 child homicides that year. Big-city murder rates and newsroom staffing constraints doom efforts to sustain the every-murder-is-equal approach.


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