T Dog’s Think Tank: Local media needs to improve crime reporting

A woman was shot and killed outside of a Dolton bar Sunday morning. (NBC 5)

Sloppy reporting erodes trust in news media even further Рparticularly in minority communities 

I totally understand covering crime in the Chicago area isn’t easy, given the sheer frequency of gun violence here – ask WGN’s Marcella Raymond. And I totally understand about the emphasis on the victims of such heinous acts.

But there is no excuse for sloppy, careless mistakes.

On Sunday, a woman was killed and a man wounded in a domestic-related shooting outside a bar Sunday night in south suburban Dolton, an impoverished town dealing with a surge of gun violence with eight people dead this year so far. The Cook County Medical Office listed the location where the shooting took place as “144th & King Drive”, something the rest of the local news media took and reprinted and said on-air.

Problem is, there is no “King Drive” in Dolton. In Chicago, there is a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (400 E), running from 23rd Street near McCormick Place to 115th Street and again from 132nd to 134th Street as the former South Park Way was renamed for the slain civil rights leader in the summer of 1968. But in Dolton – a mostly white suburb until the late 1980s and whose former residents include Jane Lynch, Richard Roeper, and Donovan McNabb, what is known as “400 East” is Chicago Road.

While I understand this shouldn’t be the focus of the news story, these types of errors distract from it. I had a hard time trying to find the location of the bar and the place of the shooting online and on both Bing and Google Maps.

From a Oct. 2018 screenshot of Google Maps of where the shooting took place, where the street sign clearly says “Chicago Rd.”

While you can blame the Medical Office for the mistake, someone in the news media should have caught it. While this is indeed a tragedy – and the call for tougher gun laws, the woman is victimized again because no one bothered to check where the actual address of the bar was (14434 Chicago Road) – in other words, to the local news media and Cook County government officials, she’s just “another homicide.”

This is another case of how the local news media and others seem to have absolutely no knowledge about Chicago’s South Side or south suburbs – mostly African-American areas of the Chicago media market. The people who report on these stories can’t even tell the difference between King Drive in the city and Chicago Road (in South Holland’s case, South Park Avenue) in the suburbs.

For years, this blog has rallied against the lack of diversity in the media business and the Chicago news media is no different. While the industry has done a good job diversifying the on-air talent here, the decision making and behind-the-scenes newsroom work is still mostly white and male. It’s an issue Politico pointed out earlier this year as many in the African-American and Latino communities complained about the lack of diversity in Chicago newsrooms and how some residents were working to change that.

This comes as media consolidation among TV station groups has led to job cuts with more and more of these factual errors. And the same can be said with the ailing newspaper industry, where copy editor jobs are being cut to save money. All you have to do is see the numerous errors the Tribune and Sun-Times make on these types of stories on a daily basis. Of note, all of the local stations used a Sun-Times copy wire to report the story. And the local media also tends to make the stories bigger than they seem, saying another Dolton murder received “national attention”, despite almost no national publications picking up the story.

And all of this while Chicago is still singled out for gun violence and homicides by conservatives and the national media despite a year-to-year drop in murders and shootings in the city. Meanwhile, an alarming number of children being gunned down in St. Louis and increasing gun violence in Dallas have all been ignored by the likes of the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and Fox News – making it seem Chicago has a monopoly on urban gun violence. I’m guessing our city’s name sells more website clicks and ratings points – not to mention Republican votes – than other cities.

Moreover, it makes you wonder if the Chicago news media is really equipped to handle the issue of gun violence in our city and nearby suburbs. Judging by what I’ve seen in the last few years, the answer unfortunately seems to be no. And given the victims tend to be African-Americans or Latinos, I don’t see any incentive for the local news media to improve.

Further reading: The media fails us on Ferguson 

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