Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our local daily, The Republican, ran a story in its national briefs section in its Sunday edition about a woman in Texas who was on trial for murdering her 10-month-old daughter by cutting off both her arms. A mistrial had been declared.

Now there is no local connection to this case. The three other briefs in the section were stories on how a roll of quarters in Texas tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison; a study on prostrate cancer treatments; and how Google’s latest legal volley in its fight to keep certain Internet record private.

The publishing of the other three items does make news sense. We all use quarters, prostrate cancer is a serious problem and many of us do not want the Bush Administration to peek into our private on-line lives.
But why publish the hideous child murder piece?

It’s a great example of how a “respectable” broadsheet uses classic tabloid techniques.

Big city tabs were well known throughout most of their history to compete with one another for crime stories that would grab the public’s attention. In this country sex might sell, but one has to be careful just what kinds of sex story will be acceptable.

With sex, context is everything.

Newspapers that call themselves “family” publications know that a sexual story might enrage some readers and perhaps even some advertisers. Crime stories do not generate that kind of reaction.

The folks that might be shocked at the inclusion of a “Page Three Girl” to draw readers probably are not the ones who shy away from such crime stories as the one from Texas.

There is no moral in the Texas story. We learn nothing other than a woman who was undoubtedly unhinged took her child’s life in an incredibly hideous way.

If there is no local angle and if the story doesn’t provide some information that could prevent a similar crime from taking place, then why did the editor charged with making up that section run it?

I’m not a mind reader, but I’m sure that editor thought it would create a little water cooler buzz for readers. It’s something so horrendous, it will be memorable and provide the fodder for idle conversation.

Another thing to consider is that this newspaper has little daily local competition. It didn’t need to run the piece because it needed to beat some competing newspaper.

No, this little gem ran because someone thought it provided entertainment value.

Now I will readily admit being entertained by material some would say is in bad taste. The difference is that material is not real. It’s made-up.

I find nothing but profound sadness in such a story – a futile sadness because there is nothing I as a reader can go about the situation.

Except stop reading the Sunday Republican.


SRBissette said...

You're right, Mike -- the NATIONAL ENQUIRER used to thrive on such stories, and now it's fodder for the daily locals. Weird -- and part and parcel, too, of why the Clinton sex scandal prompted reams of ink while the Bush Administration crimes & misdemeanors -- which dwarf anything either Clinton either had any part (anatomical or otherwise) in -- barely cause a ripple.

Heather B said...

This is one reason I collect my news online, and have over time accrued a distaste for the way newspaper editors serve it up on paper.

I love the feeling of newsprint blackening my fingers, and spreading out a paper to read under my morning bowl of cereal, but if a paper doesn't have competition, this indeed is the (sometimes sad) result. There's gotta be a better way to collect the news.

SRBissette said...

Ah, the newsprint blackening my fingers -- another grubby ENQUIRER memory of yore!

Remember "WOMAN TURNS TO STONE"? "BURNT TO A CRISP IN A BLAST FURNACE"? Or how about that Jayne Mansfield ENQUIRER cover, with the shot of the crash site and an arrow pointing out her head in the grass?

SRBissette said...

Hey, Mike -- what type of 'true crime' story WOULD make it into your papers?

Mike Dobbs said...

It's got to be local and it has to have something besides sensationalism. Competing with a daily and TV define what a weekly can has to be different.