Your observations and analysis on how the Washington Post decides to play murder stories (Dept. of Media, “Murder, They Wrote,” 9/16) were on the mark and, I believe, largely true at most newspapers. I’m a former crime reporter and have been there.
However, I’d add something else to consider: I’m willing to bet that there were cases in which reporters might have tried to get stories but couldn’t scrape up enough information to justify more than a few lines. Have you ever driven to a crime scene, knocked on the door of an apartment, or hung around a housing project where a slain drug dealer lived and tried to interview his friends, family, or professional colleagues? People don’t always care to talk to reporters, or cops for that matter. Drug-related murders often have no witnesses willing to come forward and paralyze neighbors with fear of talking (which is worthy of a story itself).
And, of course, there’s always the danger of overromanticizing victims. How many times have we heard, often unverified, that the victim was trying to get his life together before he got killed, that he was going to earn his GED, that he was going to look for a job? In some cases, sure, this might be true, and journalists should try to chronicle such stories. I used to tape a note to my computer screen in the newsroom that said “Everybody IS Somebody,” to remind myself that every time I got a report of a murder, I must check it out in full. Yes, everybody is somebody, but try as you may, you can’t always summon up more than a few lines to pay tribute to a life lost to violent crime, and that is truly a tragedy.