Thursday, February 09, 2006

Let's make fun of ... your correspondent!

[This has been modified from the original, so here's a brief explanation of the HEADSUP-L corrections policy. Wrong stuff will be left up intact if it only reflects badly on Your Editor. When stuff is modified, we'll try to take out the wrong parts while leaving enough room for gentle readers to decide for themselves how many box tops short of a secret decoder ring the said editor actually was. Let me know if that doesn't work, and I'll try to figure something else out.]

Which of the two leading dailies here in Collegetown do you figure ran this paragraph?

The woman told police the man had a red beard, was about 50, was 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed 160 pounds and wore a blue nylon jacket, blue jeans and a red ball cap.

You can see how the casual reader might wonder where the perp's race is in this rather detailed description. [ednote: The original post erroneously said it wasn't mentioned at all; the commentator below kindly pointed out where it was] As it turns out, it's a few grafs higher:

Police were dispatched at about 9:30 p.m. to the store, where the woman told them she had bought milk and gotten into her car before a white man approached.

Which seems fairly consonant, given this from last year:

The victim told police one of the black suspects was about 15 years old, about 5 feet, 4 inches and 120 pounds. He wore a red shirt. The other suspect was about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighed about 160 pounds and wore a white bandana on his face, police said.

We can't infer from this that the paper in question isn't even-handed when it comes to race in crime stories. We can, though, ask what exactly the heck it thinks it's doing. Race is a remarkably sensitive issue in American journalism, particularly in crime coverage. It shouldn't look random, and it shouldn't be used in ways that let people read more into it than is there.


Anonymous Tom said...

If you follow the link to the story, you can find the race that goes with the description. It's mentioned up top, and the other details are lower in the story. (Now, this I frown on: Breaking out the race from a full description and mentioning it high in the story, as if a perp's race, in itself, is salient.)

10:40 AM, February 10, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Erm, yes (BLAM! shooting self in toe). The approach of a white man is indeed mentioned higher in the story.

The random placement of perps' ethnicities in these crime tales remains a matter of concern, tho, and your point is well taken.

10:47 AM, February 10, 2006  

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