Jan 6, 2009

Crime and publishing

Mob movies aside, many people tend to like justice doled out with conviction, with good guys doing good and bad guys getting caught red handed. It gives them a sense of control and clarity - even when transmuted through one of the dozen or so CSI and Law and Order spinoffs.

No surprise then that struggling newspapers rely ever more on crime stories to keep local readers interested. Police blotters and crime briefs, along with prep sports and obits, are perennially popular with readers.

"The Slammer" in North Carolina takes this to fetishistic levels and seems to be enjoying success because of it. From the Christian Science Monitor via Romenesko:
“You look at this paper, and you’re amazed by the amount of illegal stuff going on in what you thought was a sleepy little city,” [says Publisher Isaac Cornetti], referring to Raleigh. “The appeal is voyeurism and schadenfreude, and it has some redeeming qualities, too, like helping people protect themselves, their families, and their businesses.”
Then there's the tendency of newspapers to "help out" when the good guys ask for it - especially if the crime involves a child. Romenesko links to a story in the Albany Times Union in which the paper's editor says he will consider withholding the names of witnesses in a murder trial at the request of the DA:
"Because we're talking about children as witnesses, the standard that we would apply is raised," [Editor Rex] Smith said. "We will review, on a case-by-case basis, whether there is an overriding public interest in identifying the witnesses. My sense is that our stories will not be compromised by withholding these names."
The paper has named the defendant, who is 16.

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