The crime beat.

by Claire Staley

I decided to pursue a crime beat for this week’s media analysis, and so I turned to a city notorious for violent crime.

I read this story from The Baltimore Sun about the murder of a 72-year old Vietnam veteran.

The violence involved in the crime is already shocking on its face, but the writer treats the incident with comparative delicacy. Rather than stuffing the lede with the personal details that make the crime particularly horrifying (a 72-year old, partially blind war veteran is shot at a restaurant, and the teenage gunmen make off with $13), the writer is precise and concise in using language. In a city with one of the highest murder rates in the country, stories on them are abundant, and writers have to exercise restraint in overloading the heart-rending details. If the same story was written for The Register-Guard, I imagine it would be very different.

The writer focuses on the neighborhood response to the murder. Because of the local reputation of the victim, residents were forthcoming with eyewitness accounts while the police were canvassing, and the gunmen were arrested. The writer uses the “martini glass” story structure, and I think its effective in both conveying the pertinent information to the crime, and not sensationalizing the news. The story wraps up quietly, with quotes from a woman who knew the victim.

I did a cursory search for similar crimes run in The Register-Guard, for the sake of comparison. The few recent murder stories I found were part of running series, and tended to be longer and more detailed than a typical news story. I found this article on a recent shooting in Springfield. The format is similar, but the attention to detail, using one-sentence paragraphs and offering a sort of play-by-play of the action. The differences between the stories is interesting and highlights the need to write for a readership.

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