I’m currently in Michigan and was reading a local news story online today when I noticed some interesting comments posted by readers — and the even more interesting replies from newspaper edit staff.
This story about a homicide at a local convenience store in a traditionally rough neighborhood may seem inconsequential, but to me, the story says a lot about today’s media. At first glance, the description of the shooting and the key suspect seemed awfully vague:
Police describe the suspect as a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, approximately 18 to 20 years old.
Wow, really? That’s all you have? As it turns out, it wasn’t. When the story first ran, the description identified the suspect as a black male. Why then had the suspect’s race been edited out of the story with no editor’s note or explanation?
The paper’s community news director responded to commenters who pointed out the indiscrepency: ”The race of the suspect has been removed from the story,” he wrote, adding that the police description is “so vague,” that including the suspect’s race was “not helpful.”
When one commenter pointedly asked the news director why the information about the suspect’s race was withheld but information about gender and attire were not, he artfully replied:
We use racial descriptions of suspects in stories when the information is accompanied by enough other details to make using the race relevant and helpful to the public. It is often a judgment call by the editor and, in this case, I determined that not enough other details were provided to warrant publishing the suspect’s race.
This response from the newspaper is troubling for a couple of key reasons:
1) The police report provided the suspect’s race as part of its criminal description, but it was the paper’s editorial staff who arbitrarily decided that it was not important info for city residents to know about the alleged killer on the loose, and
2) It really makes you wonder what kind of other details and facts are routinely left out of news stories these days because someone on the news staff didn’t think it was “helpful” or useful information.
Is it really any wonder the public doesn’t trust the media these days?