News reporting on crime trends would improve if journalists covered crime like financial journalists cover business, contends criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Rosenfeld, incoming president of the American Society of Criminology, spoke yesterday at a panel on the use and misuse of crime statistics at the society’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. He said much crime coverage focuses on individual crimes and is “devoid of meaningful context.”
Rosenfeld suggested that newspapers or media Web sites could create “crime and justice” pages similar to business pages in which reports of specific crimes could include data on other crimes of the same type, crime rates in other areas, and alternate sources of risk to victims. At the same panel, Jeffrey Butts of Public/Private Ventures in Philadelphia criticized some media reports for “cherry picking crime trends” out of context. Butts said many news reports are sloppy about differentiating between “juveniles” and “youth,” noting that many crimes committed by people in their early 20s are incorrectly called juvenile crimes. Other panelists were Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University, Mark Fazlollah of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Ted Gest of Criminal Justice Journalists.