Published in the Media Studies Journal of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, this was an argument for a return to narrative as a means of humanizing crime coverage. I’d just published my first book and contemplating the second. At this point, though, this is a rather amusing artifact given how the argument for narrative led me, kicking and screaming, out of journalism entirely.
At the moment you begin reading this, some poor bastard three years out of journalism school is sitting at a video-display terminal in a newspaper office somewhere in these United States, fingers darting on a keyboard. No doubt a cursor flashes through line after line of the same simple, tired
“A 17-year-old West Baltimore youth was shot to death yesterday in a murder that police say is related to drugs….”
Or, perhaps: “The battered body of a 25-year-old Queens resident was found by police along the shoulder of a Long Island expressway….” ‘
Or: “A 43-year-old East Los Angeles man was found stabbed to death in the trunk of his car…”
Behold the entrails of any large American newspaper’s metro section—misdemeanor homicides, casualties that will for the most part be interred in four paragraphs or less in those around-the-region packages. Oh sure, if someone is unfortunate enough to be killed in the right zip code, if the victim happens to be famous, if he or she is killed for some unusual motive or in some unusual way (“Police said it was the first slaying involving a staple gun in more than a decade.”), then chances are a good newspaper will give it some space. But most violence, when it first crosses a city editor’s path, looks decidedly similar: drug murder, drug murder, robbery murder, domestic, drug murder.