Amid ‘Terrible’ Crime Coverage, a Call to ‘Shift the Narrative’

Print More

News media crime coverage is “terrible,” Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli of News Voices write for Nieman Lab.  They call it “racist, classist, fear-based clickbait masking as journalism” that “creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve.” Studies show that the media’s overemphasis on crime makes people feel less safe than they really are and negatively shape public policy about criminal justice, the authors say. They argue that crime coverage serves “three powerful constituencies: white supremacy, law enforcement, and newsrooms — specifically a newsroom’s bottom line.”  In Chappell and Rispoli’s view, the news media prioritize the relationships with law enforcement over their connections with communities affected by violence “because police give journalists information quickly and cultivate relationships with reporters through ride-alongs and press conferences.”

Journalists  defer to police, even though they know some cops are liars, the authors say. Television news in particular routinely runs crime stories that feature law enforcement as the sole source of information. For every good story holding police accountable, “there are dozens more crime stories that inflict trauma and make a spectacle of violence, mental illness, poverty, substance abuse, and generational divestment,” the authors say. They cite some positive changes, including that many newsrooms no longer use mugshots, some have appeal processes for the public to have stories removed from news sites, and others are creating advisory boards. Calls to reexamine the relationship between police and media have increased since the summer’s racial-justice uprisings and hundreds of press freedom violations by police. Journalists should “recognize that what they’ve recently experienced with police violence is what Black and brown communities experience on a daily basis,” say the authors. They tout Philadelphia’s Shift the Narrative Project, “which aims to replace prevailing media narratives with complex stories about trauma, safety, crime and criminal justice.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *