If it bleeds it leads.
If you’re familiar with this mantra, you’ve either worked in news or are an active consumer of it.
This is the age-old adage that if there is a crime happening, it will lead a TV newscast, be printed on the front page of the newspaper or make it to the homepage of a news website.
It depends on who you ask. For a TV news director, it may be because this kind of coverage gets better ratings. For a digital producer, it may be because crime stories get lots of page views. For a newspaper editor, it could be because that has historically increased single copy sales.
The Colorado News Collaborative – a local resource hub based in Denver that aims to strengthen high-quality local journalism, support civic engagement and ensure public accountability – published an article last year about the dire consequences that can come from hastily reporting a story based on limited information from one source (in this case, law enforcement).
“High-profile events of the last year have shown the pitfalls for local media relying too heavily on ‘police say’ attribution in crime coverage,” journalism instructor and Columbia Journalism Review contributor Corey Hutchins wrote in the story. “Consider the first statement to local media from Minneapolis police about George Floyd: ‘Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.’”
Hutchins’ story talks about how fallout from a bungled arrest of a Hispanic man in Westminster, Colorado, offers the opportunity for news organizations to reconsider the way they cover crime.
“Incomplete, quick-churn local ‘crime’ reporting is why some are calling to reform the way local news organizations cover criminal justice issues in the digital age — with some even calling to abolish the crime beat altogether,” Hutchins wrote.
Enter the Town Crier.
It was a beloved feature in the Cincinnati Post that included an array of items like birth announcements, engagement announcements, things that were going on around town and and all sorts of other information.
It also included a crime blotter. This included DUIs, divorces, and arrests for everything from robbery to murder.
Town Criers go all the way back to the 1800s and beyond. According to this Cincinnati Magazine article, town criers were originally people who shouted information on street corners so that those who didn’t have a seat at the political table could find out what was going on in their communities.
“While disoriented ragamuffins were a constant in the city crier business, criers also invited attendance at public meetings, reported lost property and spread other miscellaneous chatter,” Greg Hand wrote in the August 2022 Cincinnati Magazine article. “Cincinnati’s town criers did not hold official positions and anyone could become a town crier simply by advertising for business.”
It’s no surprise, then, that as more people learned to read and newspapers went from something only the elite could afford to something widely accessible, the town crier evolved.
It eventually found its way into print in the Kentucky Post. It was seen as a way to find out what was going on around town. Some of it was positive. Some of it was messy. Most of it hit that gossipy part of our brains that just wants to know what’s happening outside of our own small circles.
And when LINK announced we would be resurrecting the Town Crier, many of you showed your excitement.
And many were disappointed in what you found. The current iteration of the Town Crier is a far cry – pun intended – from the Crier of years past.
We did change the Town Crier. And we did it for a very specific reason, though we may not have been clear enough about why. But we also hear you, and we want to keep tweaking this feature of our weekly paper until we get it right.
But first, here’s why we didn’t just replicate the Post model at LINK.
“It was a different era,” said Michele Day, a journalism professor and student media advisor at Northern Kentucky University.
When Day worked as a night city editor at the Post, she copy edited the Crier before it went to print.
Day is also on LINK nky’s editorial board, which helps us talk through decisions like this as we think about how to cover news.
One thing to consider, Day said, was that when the Crier was in its heyday, the information existed just in print. If someone wanted to find information, like previously printed arrests, they could, but it was a lot more work to go to a library and find what you were looking for in the archives.
“Now, that’s living out there forever,” Day said. “If it’s online, it could cause people not to be able to get jobs.”
So, Day said, follow-up when it comes to this kind crime coverage is vital.
But a blotter-like list of daily or weekly crimes does not allow for the perspective that would come from responsible follow up.
“The big issue,” Day said, “is that if you’re not going to follow up on every item, what’s going to happen with that? If somebody is charged, they are innocent until proven guilty. But a town crier is just putting it out there and the assumption is often that they did it.”
What happens later, Day asked? What if the charges are dropped or it turns out police arrested the wrong person?
Day said that the process of putting out the Town Crier was the responsibility of multiple reporters who spent huge chunks of their days going to courthouses to compile information.
If the Post, which at the time had close to 50 reporters, didn’t have the bandwidth to follow up on each of the items mentioned in the Town Crier, then we at LINK certainly don’t. While we are growing rapidly, we still only have five full-time reporters on staff.
And we cannot, in good conscience, report that kind tiny blip in someone’s life – especially without the circumstances surrounding it – without knowing we can responsibly follow up on it later.
Here’s what we CAN do.
We can include any public meetings that allow people to weigh in on the decisions that affect their communities.
We can include the fun stuff: Birth announcements, wedding announcements, engagements, community events and celebrations.
And we can include some of the mess: Did a truck carrying 10,000 jars of peanut butter spill and close the road near your house for 12 hours? Maybe there is a stop sign in the neighborhood that everyone seems to disregard, or lawn furniture that mysteriously appeared in the yard after a storm and the owner is yet to be found?
We can also include the weird stuff: How about the coyote that everyone in the neighborhood has seen drinking out of their bird feeder? Maybe you snapped a pic of a raccoon on top of a light pole (I see you, Alexandria). Perhaps your neighbor has the absolute best holiday display that the public just must see. Maybe there was a celebrity sighting at the restaurant where you worked.
So, please, stick with us and help us make the Town Crier into something resembling its old self.
Here’s how you can submit items to the Town Crier:
Email [email protected]. Include as much information as you can, along with any pictures that accompany your item.
And here are some examples of the things we are looking for:
Boone County Sheriff’s Office warning of counterfeit money: The Boone County Sheriff’s Office reported this week that as the holidays get closer, the United States Secret Service often sees an uptick in counterfeit Monday. Click here to learn more about how to identify counterfeit money.
Allie the Elf is bored of her shelf: Ally the Elf is occupying the light pole where a raccoon previously took up residence and became the talk of Alexandria and Northern Kentucky.
Fort Thomas florist worker finds missing ring. The culprit? A poinsettia: It was a day to remember at the Fort Thomas Florist and Greenhouses for worker Joyce Workman. She lost her mother’s ring a few weeks ago, and it turned up recently in a poinsettia and was given back to her in a surprise that was caught on video by her coworkers. In the video, the person who found the ring announced that Workman was having a bad month, “miracles work in funny, funny ways,” he said while pulling the ring out of his pocket to reveal the found treasure to her as the room erupted with applause.
Boone County Animal Shelter grateful for donations during Santa breakfast: Following a breakfast with Santa in Union, members of the Boone County Animal Shelter are thanking the community for their time, attention and donations.
“Big thanks to the City of Union for inviting us to participate in the Breakfast with Santa event this past weekend! Our volunteers had a great time, and we collected lots of great donations for the shelter,” a post on the shelter’s Facebook page said.
The Boone County Animal Shelter is on its way to building a new facility in England-Idlewild Park. A celebration was held earlier this year to break ground on the longtime project.