After Mass Shooting, Public Wants Stories of ‘Heroes’, Not Shooters: Study

A series of studies of news coverage of mass shootings also found that whites involved in mass shootings are more likely to be associated with mental illness than African Americans.

Americans are more interested in reading stories that focused on courageous bystanders  after a mass shooting than on the shooters or their victims, according to a study in the American Behavioral Scientist.

Researchers who conducted an electronic survey of 212 adults, aged 35 to 44 years, to examine their interest in reading different kinds of news coverage of a school shooting, called it an example of “information-seeking behavior.”

The study “Covering Mass Murder: An Experimental Examination of the Effect of News Focus — Killer, Victim, or Hero — on Reader Interest” was part of an aggregate of studies compiled by the Jack Levin, a professor emeritus at Northeastern University, and Julie B. Wiest, a sociologist at West Chester University.

“Although all stories suggested a certain threat, those that focused on the killer and victim offered uncertain solutions … which may explain why they were less interesting to subjects.”

A second study conducted by Ohio State University researchers found that whites involved in mass shootings are more likely to be associated with mental illness in media coverage than African Americans.

Researchers concluded that “the odds that white shooters will receive the mental illness frame are roughly 19 times greater than the odds for black shooters.”

The study, “Mental Illness, the Media, and the Moral Politics of Mass Violence: The Role of Race in Mass Shootings Coverage,” was based on an analysis of news articles written about mass shootings between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015, in an effort to examine how journalists portray perpetrators of different ethnicities.

“The odds that a Latino shooter will receive the mental illness frame are roughly 12 times greater when compared to Blacks,” the study said.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 

In a third study, researchers examined journalists’ attitudes about news coverage of mass shootings in the U.S. and found that journalists, though by a small margin, agreed that coverage is “sensational” and most agreed that the way newsrooms cover these events “is an ethical issue.”

“Most journalists were in favor of perpetrator coverage and did not believe it glamorized suspected perpetrators,” the study concluded.

“Most news workers likely do not want to believe that their work contributes to further carnage and suffering, despite evidence showing that fame-seeking mass shooters and a contagion effect do, in fact, exist.”

The study “Covering Mass Shootings: Journalists’ Perceptions of Coverage and Factors Influencing Attitudes” was published in the Journalism Practice journal.

In a fourth study, researchers examined The New York Times’ coverage of 90 mass shootings between 2000 and 2012 to see how to see how factors such as victim counts, the location of a shooting and the shooter’s race affect the newsworthiness of each event.

The researchers found that race/ethnicity and victim counts are the most salient predictor of whether or not a shooting was covered, with perpetrators of Asian and other descent and those events with higher victim counts generating more prominent coverage. The also found that incidents occurring in locations other than schools garnered less coverage.

The study, “Mass Shootings and the Media: Why All Events Are Not Created Equal,” was published in Journal of Crime and Justice.

In the final study of the compilation, researchers examined New York Times articles stretching back 50 years and found that massacres at schools, government buildings and religious institutions got more coverage than those occurring at businesses.

Also, shooters of Middle Eastern descent received more coverage than shooters of other races.

The study, “The Media’s Coverage of Mass Public shootings in America: Fifty Years of Newsworthiness,” was published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice.

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Gabriel Ware.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Miami Herald’s ‘Fight Club’ Investigation of Juvenile Lockups Gets Media Award

Carol Marbin Miller, a Miami Herald senior investigative reporter, was honored by the National Council on Crime & Delinquency for her special report “Fight Club,” an investigation of Florida’s juvenile justice system. The story earlier won this year’s John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting.

The National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD) has honored Carol Marbin Miller, a Miami Herald senior investigative reporter, for her special report “Fight Club”  in conjunction with its annual Media for a Just Society awards.

Carol Marbin Miller

Carol Marbin Miller. Photo by Al Diaz, Miami Herald.

The report, an investigation of Florida’s juvenile justice system that disclosed disturbing practices by the staff of juvenile lockups and led to the passage of reform bills by the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, won the 2018 John Jay/HF Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting earlier this year.

The NCCD, citing a “superior piece of media,” gave Miller the “Distinguished Achievement Award. ” Miller’s co-writer on the report was Audra Burch.

Other prizes awarded by the NCCD went to Susan Burton for the book, “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women;” to Matt Ruskin for the film “Crown Heights;” to Eli Hager of The Marshall Project for the story, “From Prison to PhD: The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones.”

Other winners were Shankar Vendantam for the NPR story, “Radio Replay: Crime as a Disease;” to Matthew O’Neill of Frontline and Boston’s WGBH for “Life on Parole;” and Nyal Mueenuddin of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for “Break the Cycle: The Power of Food to Interrupt the Revolving Prison Door.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Assange Charges Worry Free-Press Advocates

The revelation that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been secretly charged has prompted fears among free-press advocates that the Justice Department is targeting those who publish classified information.

The revelation that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been secretly charged has prompted fears among free-press advocates that the Justice Department is targeting those who publish classified information, the Washington Post reports. The Trump Justice Department has waged an aggressive crackdown on disclosures of classified information, more than tripling the number of leak investigations in then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s first six months on the job. Assange’s case could mark a dramatic escalation, if prosecutors are essentially charging someone who disseminated information that the government did not want to be made public, free-press advocates say. “This is troubling because it would mean that the government is bringing criminal charges against a publisher for disclosing leaked, but truthful, information about our government,” said law Prof. Sonja West of the University of Georgia.

Word of the charges against Assange came in a court filing in an unrelated case that inadvertently referenced the WikiLeaks publisher. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said: “The court filing was made in error.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press asked a judge to unseal the records about Assange’s case, saying the secrecy surrounding the matter was “anathema to our open system of justice.” Assange has long been of interest to federal investigators.  Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the errant filing was made, had been examining WikiLeaks for its 2010 publication of diplomatic cables and military documents. Justice Department officials in the Obama administrationoncluded that WikiLeaks was a publisher, and that bringing charges against members of the group might prompt First Amendment challenges or set a dangerous precedent that could invite future prosecutions of traditional news organizations.

from https://thecrimereport.org

No Presumption of Innocence For John and Patsy Ramsey

     I’ve [John Ramsey] concluded that three primary factors led to the quick presumption of our guilt when, in fact, the police have never officially labeled either of us as suspects. First, of course, is the police themselves. The diff…

     I've [John Ramsey] concluded that three primary factors led to the quick presumption of our guilt when, in fact, the police have never officially labeled either of us as suspects. First, of course, is the police themselves. The difficulties created by an inexperienced police force operating on hunches rather than evidence--and talking freely about those hunches with the media--started the avalanche. Second, the infotainment media were eager for a juicy soap opera-style story, since the O.J. Simpson trial had just ended, and they had lots of talking heads sitting idly by and lots of tabloid talk shows to fill with gossip. I was even less prepared for the third factor resulting in the loss of our presumption of innocence, and that was the new world-class gossip machine: the internet. 

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence. 2000

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Review Can’t Find Many Sources of Ex-Justice Reporter.

An extensive review by the Houston Chronicle finds that 44 percent of supposedly ordinary Texans quoted by former reporter Mike Ward, who specialized in criminal justice, could not be found.

The Houston Chronicle investigated stories written by former reporter Mike Ward and found that many of the people he quoted could not be found, despite extensive searches in multiple databases by a newsroom researcher and more work by a private investigator, the Chronicle reports. Ward, who has resigned, specialized in criminal justice, and many of his stories were cited in The Crime Report. A review of 744 stories back to 2014 found the names of 275 individuals who were presented as ordinary Texans. Of those quoted, 122, or 44 percent, could not be found. It’s impossible to prove that these people do not exist, only that with extensive research and digging, the team could not find them. In this age of online records, including property ownership and court filings, almost everyone can be found quickly.

The Chronicle team ran each name in Ward’s stories through a variety of search engines that comb through records of property ownership, voter registration, hunting and fishing licenses, phone numbers and criminal records. They queried Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts, along with Google and several other commercial search engines. Some of the stories the Chronicle published under Ward’s byline rested in large part on the quotes from people whose existence could not be verified, throwing the veracity of entire stories into question. Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a national media instructional and resource center, said mid-level newspaper editors ought to know how reporters are getting their work done. “Where did you find this guy? Do you have any other quotes from him? Where do you go to get man-on-the-street quotes? Are you using social media? This is the editor’s responsibility,” McBride said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Critic: Media Take Trump Too Seriously on Immigration

Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan takes journalists to task for not reporting skeptically enough on many of President Trump’s statements on immigration.

Recalling election night 2016’s “epic fail” by the news media, Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan complains that too many journalists “allow Trump to lead them around by the nose, which is why you’ve heard so very much about that migrant caravan in recent weeks.” Sullivan says that, “Wide-eyed coverage of [Trump’s] politically driven pet issues — primarily the supposed horrors of immigration — has dominated the past few weeks of news, with a fixation on the refugees coming north through Mexico.

When Trump sat down with reporter Jonathan Swan of the digital news site Axios last week, he cannily floated the idea of eliminating birthright citizenship by executive order — knowing it would make big news. Swan was “excited to share” his scoop, he tweeted, and news organizations from the Associated Press to Bloomberg News went along for the ride.giving the false impression that this was something that could quite easily come to pass. In fact, it might require a constitutional amendment. Sullivan also cites a headline, “Trump: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised’ if Soros were paying for migrant caravan.” There was no evidence for the statement. The reality-based world went into a tizzy of appreciation when Fox News anchor Shep Smith took some on-air time to voice the obvious about the migrant caravan: “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you.” Sullivan praises BuzzFeed News for the headline, “Now Trump Is Saying He’ll Stop Babies Born In The US From Becoming Citizens, Though He Probably Can’t.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will the Supreme Court Strike a Blow Against Prison Censorship?

The Court will soon decide whether to hear a case arguing that Florida’s ban on Prison Legal News is unconstitutional. One of the authors of a supporting brief explains why upholding the First Amendment for prisoners is in everyone’s interest.

Access to the monthly magazine Prison Legal News (PLN) is one of the few ways prisoners learn about criminal justice issues, including their rights as prisoners. Most incarcerated individuals across America have access to the publication.

The exception? Every prisoner in Florida.

Since 2009, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has banned every issue of PLN, claiming that the advertisements in the magazine raise security concerns. FDOC’s blanket ban on PLN makes Florida an outlier. No other state, county or even our federal government has a de facto ban on PLN because of its ads.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the ban. Soon, the Supreme Court will have a chance to weigh in. Reversing the ban will not only benefit both prisoners and society, it will ensure that the First Amendment is upheld.

PLN has a subscription base of more than 10,000 people and contains over 70 pages of useful information related to prisoners’ rights every month. PLN’s reporting has had a significant impact on changing prison policy for the better and exposing abuses. The magazine has covered issues like solitary confinement, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, visitation and medical care in prisons.

In addition, PLN’s reporting has led to real and direct change. When PLN revealed the exorbitant rates families had to pay to call their loved ones in prison, the Federal Communications Commission responded by instituting changes to the policy in 2013 and 2015.

We know the economic and social costs of mass incarceration are astronomical. Allowing publications like PLN behind bars improves literacy and learning, which leads to better outcomes for prisoners when they re-enter society. Many prisoners struggle with literacy — more so than average citizens.

Promoting education behind the bars is one of the lowest-cost ways to reduce prisoners’ chances of reoffendingand it’s therefore vital to public safety. After all, 95 percent of prisoners are eventually released back into society.

Ensuring that we are releasing educated returning citizens is in all of our interests.

Access to books and other reading materials within prison also creates hope. Legal publications in particular can help prisoners confront injustice and provide them self-efficacy — the sense that they and their actions have value. Though public defenders may help with direct appeals, most prisoners cannot afford an attorney after that stage and must represent themselves in civil and habeas petitions.

With decreasing access to law libraries, PLN and materials like it can be immensely valuable in promoting access to courts.

See also The Crime Report: “Access Denied: The Digital Crisis in Prisons.”

On the legal front, we should be suspicious of any government that censors a publication that criticizes its policies.

In this case, PLN has reported directly on abuses in Florida prisons, so it is far from surprising that Florida’s corrections department would disfavor the publication. However, the First Amendment requires courts to apply a more rigorous review when the government is trying to silence speech of which it disapproves.

While it might be more convenient for FDOC to place a de facto ban on every issue of PLN because it does not like the stories that are being reported, convenience does not make this decision legal.

Of course, there are security concerns in prison that necessitate restrictions on reading materials.

As I have written in the past, “regulations make sense when it comes to books that instruct readers how to make weapons, incite riots or escape prison.” But we must look at these restrictions with the utmost scrutiny. The scope of the First Amendment does not depend on the whim of the government. And when a blanket ban exists, we should be even more wary.

Last week, several center-right organizations — including the R Street Institute, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Foundation and the Rutherford Institute — have submitted an amicus brief on the issue, noting the importance of ensuring the First Amendment is adhered to behind bars, and the substantial benefits of allowing prisoners to access publications like PLN.

Nina Bala

Nina Bala

We hope that the Supreme Court will grant review on this issue. After all, improved access to reading materials in prison benefits us all.

For additional information, see also, The Crime Report: “The Silencing of Prison Legal News”

Nila Bala is the Associate Director of Criminal Justice Policy at R Street Institute, as well as a former public defender from Baltimore.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Should News Websites Be Featuring Police Mugshots?

One newspaper says that publishing mugshots has been a “game-changer” for website popularity. Media ethics experts like Kelly McBride says “best practice would be to follow up on every single case,” which media rarely do.

An editor at the Times of Northwest Indiana says publishing mugshots online has been a “game-changer” for the paper, which includes collections of booking photos below its crime stories and standalone galleries of recent arrestees, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. For some newsrooms, mugshots—which are easy to obtain from law enforcement—remain a staple. North Carolina’s Salisbury Post runs a “Mugshot Monday” feature. “It usually is the most popular thing on the website for that particular day,” says Editor Elizabeth Cook. In Colorado Springs, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gazette publishes a “Mugshot Monday” feature limited to those people sought on federal warrants. Mugshot galleries usually divulge only a subject’s name, age, and suspected offense; they rarely attract follow-up coverage, so the outcomes of criminal charges are not covered in detail. In such cases, mugshot subjects are preserved for readers as suspects. In others, follow-up coverage comes slowly.

While it’s not unethical to publish mugshots, some media ethics specialists argue that newsrooms should contextualize images for readers, articulate the public-service value of disseminating them, and pursue the stories after the photos are taken. “I’m not going to condemn someone” for publishing mugshots, says Ted Gest of John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice. As a journalist, Gest  favors information about the criminal justice system being available and publishable. He adds, “My question would be: Is it fair to people if you don’t show the disposition of the case?” Journalists should seek to minimize harm, says Bastiaan Vanacker of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. “If the benefit of publishing it is just, ‘Well, it happened’ … I don’t think that’s a good enough reason.” “Best practice would be to follow up on every single case,” says Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Cleveland.com Respects ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn has changed the site’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. The site is also launching an effort to review individuals’ requests to remove their names from old stories.

When you hear “right to be forgotten,” you may think of the European Union, where right-to-be-forgotten regulations allow nearly anyone to ask Google to take down search results they don’t like. The result is a clash between free speech, the public’s right to know, and privacy. Must everything be preserved on the internet forever? If you commit a minor, dumb crime when you’re young, is it fair for articles about that crime to pop to the top of the Google results when a prospective employer searches your name for the rest of your life? The old newspaper standard is: Never change anything that’s true; news values come first. In 2018, it’s clear that standard isn’t exactly working; a brief item on Page A17 in one day’s print newspaper doesn’t have the same sort of impact as a permanent digital record, reports Nieman Lab. Chris Quinn, the editor and president of Cleveland.com/Advance Ohio, is an example of a journalist who is not an absolutist. “It really comes down to: How long does somebody have to pay for a mistake?” said Quinn, who has worked in newsrooms for over 40 years. He’s leading the charge to make newsrooms more compassionate through a unique take on the concept of the right to be forgotten.

Quinn has changed Cleveland.com’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. Cleveland.com is also launching an effort to review individual’s requests to remove their names from old stories. (Similar efforts have taken place at outlets like the New Haven Independent.) It’s a process that starts from a place of compassion, abandons the idea of doing things just because they’ve always been done that way, and injects nuance throughout a newspaper’s editorial decisions. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Cleveland.com Respects ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn has changed the site’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. The site is also launching an effort to review individuals’ requests to remove their names from old stories.

When you hear “right to be forgotten,” you may think of the European Union, where right-to-be-forgotten regulations allow nearly anyone to ask Google to take down search results they don’t like. The result is a clash between free speech, the public’s right to know, and privacy. Must everything be preserved on the internet forever? If you commit a minor, dumb crime when you’re young, is it fair for articles about that crime to pop to the top of the Google results when a prospective employer searches your name for the rest of your life? The old newspaper standard is: Never change anything that’s true; news values come first. In 2018, it’s clear that standard isn’t exactly working; a brief item on Page A17 in one day’s print newspaper doesn’t have the same sort of impact as a permanent digital record, reports Nieman Lab. Chris Quinn, the editor and president of Cleveland.com/Advance Ohio, is an example of a journalist who is not an absolutist. “It really comes down to: How long does somebody have to pay for a mistake?” said Quinn, who has worked in newsrooms for over 40 years. He’s leading the charge to make newsrooms more compassionate through a unique take on the concept of the right to be forgotten.

Quinn has changed Cleveland.com’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. Cleveland.com is also launching an effort to review individual’s requests to remove their names from old stories. (Similar efforts have taken place at outlets like the New Haven Independent.) It’s a process that starts from a place of compassion, abandons the idea of doing things just because they’ve always been done that way, and injects nuance throughout a newspaper’s editorial decisions. 

from https://thecrimereport.org