In my last two columns on bad news this summer I explained how it is important to report even though it isn’t good.
It reminds us of the consequences of crime and carelessness. It also encourages us to care about those around us. I also noted that it is important to focus on the positive things being done to stop bad news rather than just the bad news. People come to help when bad things happen.
I would be remiss not to also mention the effect reporting on bad news can have on crime prevention in a community. First off, when crime is reported, it sends a message to perpetrators that this isn’t the place to do their crime. If they are charged with a felony that notably affects the community, their name will be in the news, in print and online.
A double burglary recently occurred in Shoreview. A St. Paul man came up to the city and entered someone’s home and a restaurant. He stole items and a vehicle. You can read about it in today’s paper. When community newspapers report on felony crimes like this, it sends the message that the community won’t tolerate this type of crime. Reporting on bad news locally is like saying, “Hey, that’s not okay.” When crime isn’t reported, communities can suffer from the lack of public accountability of crime.
News deserts are a real thing. Across the nation, 1,800 newspapers have closed since 2004, according to a 2018 study by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism. About 1,700 were weekly newspapers. About 1,300 were in metro areas; 1,250 of those were weeklies. In other words, metro weekly newspapers like the one you are reading are most at risk of disappearing.
I believe crime and hard news deserts are also a thing; not all weekly community newspapers continue to report on crime as the Press does. As newsrooms have shrunk over the years due to decreased ad revenue and subscriptions, more responsibilities are placed on fewer journalists. I’m not just the editor and lone reporter for the Shoreview Press. I’m the crime, education and religion reporter for the White Bear Press. And the editor and reporter for the Vadnais Heights Press section. It’s a lot to juggle and takes a keen skill of prioritization.
Amid the growing desert, I aim to create an oasis of news. Within that oasis, I include bad news because it’s part of the overall power of information that keeps a community vigilant and thriving. Consider it the cacti at the edge of the oasis. There’s a prickly story on the front page of the Shoreview Press today, about a sex trafficking forum.
At the end of the forum, something Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Karen Kluger stuck out to me but didn’t quite make it into the article. Kluger said she used to tell her teenage son and his friends stories about the cases she is working on before he grew up and went to college. While they may have thought she was simply telling an intriguing story, what she was trying to do was make them aware of the consequences of bad behavior. She said any parent can do the same thing with what’s in the news.
“Don’t be afraid of that conversation,” she said. “Engage and turn into a teaching moment what’s in the news.”
Sara Marie Moore is editor of the Shoreview Press and Vadnais Heights Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-407-1235.