Murder is a paradoxical category in the world of crime statistics. It provides the best data to compare metropolitan area to metropolitan area in terms of criminal dysfunction, when taken in blocks of years, because its definition is very similar from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and it is almost always reported. It is at the same time one of the worst categories of crime to use to analyze changes year over year in a single community because of the relative volatility of small numbers.
One of the keys to rationality is proportion. I realize that the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality is the only real option most small market television stations and newspapers have, given the obligation to make money and the limited resources reporters have, especially in terms of time, to crank out the content needed to fill the news hole. That said, what is happening right now is outrageous. Springfield has experienced an 80% drop in homicide over last year and not only has not one story been dedicated to this fact in any of the local media, but what has happened instead is that lesser instances of violence are being highlighted disproportionately in order to fill the void.
If you are thinking right now that I’m contradicting myself given that I expressed in the opening paragraph of this essay that murder is a poor barometer of crime year over year in the same community, then good for you! My response is that the media NEVER allow that fact to deter them from using the data for that purpose when the opportunity to present the situation as worsening is available to them. One can be sure that if homicides had increased 5x over the first 100 days of the new year, instead of standing at 1/5th last year’s rate, no other topic would be given any space at the top of any local news program.
What has replaced the reporting which would have been dedicated to the murders of “yesteryear”? Take a look at some headlines, then get informed on the details:
48 hours later the police are reporting that this gentleman’s story is not at all believable because:
On Sunday readers and viewers were told of what was a random shooting on Worthington Street:
The reporting left the impression that it was a random act of wanton violence. It turns out, we find out 48 hours later, the incident was just another in which the “victim” is not cooperating with police and appears to be drug and gang related:
Homicides are down 80% in Springfield so far this year. Yes, that could change in a single weekend, perhaps in a single incident. But that would be the news then, the news now is that while murders in Boston are happening at a much higher rate than in 2013, in our city, they are down so far this year. So lets take a look at today’s “headlines” from various news outlets:
I don’t think local media should avoid covering street crime, but a live report about a knife fight resulting from a “drug deal gone bad” or a “domestic quarrel” is hardly proportional to the significance that sort of incident has on the life of the average viewer, ditto the same story when highlighted as significant local news in the online version of the paper. One interview with a “former city resident” revealed that he felt despair for Springfield because he couldn’t “watch the news or read the paper without hearing about a shooting or a stabbing”. Had he heard that homicides are down 80% in the city so far this year? Did the reporter ask?
Some questions just answer themselves don’t they?