By sharing links to media about violent deaths in Durham, we expand the awareness of the problems we are facing. However, we’re also perpetuating the focus on violence at the expense of the efforts being made to make our community safe. And corporate media gains more advertisement revenue when you click on these shared links.
I’m sure that many of us have been exposed to the saying “If it bleeds, it leads”… if not in our personal lives, at least on some TV show or documentary that, in part, features some sort of dilemma about what stories should be reported in the media. Basically, the saying points to the fact that stories of violence and death have become so powerful and profitable in today’s media that they are basically guaranteed to draw in more viewers and advertisement revenue than stories that report comparably “good” news. So, we can kind of guess that it has been a slow day in the news room if the lead story on the nightly news or on our favorite news website doesn’t involve violence and/or death.
Believe me… it is much easier to pass along the bad news than it is to highlight the great things that the Durham Police Department, community organizations, and individual citizens are doing to curtail violent crime in our city. I am not a reporter, nor do I have the resources to go out and interview people who are either the most impacted by violence or are doing more than their fair share to stop it. It is rather simple to scour the websites of ABC11, WRAL, WNCN, the N&O, and other media outlets and share links to “breaking news” of the latest drive-by shooting, but much, much more difficult to find a story that they might actually be able to frame as an preemptive effort to thwart behaviors and situations that may lead to violence.
There are several local non-profits and religious-based groups who are making an effort to curtail violent crime in our city, such as Rebound, the Durham Chapter of the Parents of Murdered Children, and the and the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. Also, the Durham Police Department has been making efforts to become more transparent about its practices in recent months in addition to being more active in sharing some of the great work that its employees are doing in the community. However, my efforts to find media coverage of many of these efforts usually fail to reveal much in the way of long-term investigative reporting, let alone coverage that preempts the latest shooting to focus on the efforts that seek to prevent the next one.
There are any number of reasons for this trend, but one huge part of the problem is the overall pattern of online news sources pushing local newspapers out of the marketplace. I’ll admit that I can’t afford a subscription to the Durham Herald-Sun, and that I kick myself for not being able to do so when I see them share a link to one of their stories on Facebook that seems like the reporter has done exactly what I would hope a story would do in regard to understanding the problems that underlie violent behavior in the Bull City. Additional related problems include the growth of big media companies and the corresponding shrinkage of local control over local news. Folks who are more equipped to follow this thread can do so in the comment section below, but on any level, there are so many threads to pull that you can’t just point at one reason for why it is so hard to find stories on violent death in Durham that really tackle the issues.
For many reasons, Durham is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. However, I firmly believe that to make this even more of a reality, it behooves us to know about our tragic slip-ups and the problems which underlie them. Without question, a deadly shooting is a result of a crack or failure in the system. However, it is easier to write off a gang shooting as the result of “thugs being thugs” than it is to understand and fix the problems of poverty and failing schools. It’s more convenient for us to shake our heads or write “smh” in a reply to a Facebook post than it is to become more involved in the affairs that impact the safety of our neighbors. Indeed, for some folks, their livelihood requires them to not talk to the police when bad things happen on their block out of fear of being labeled a “snitch.”
The media has its problems in covering all of these things, as well, and so do I as a computer-chair jockey sharing their coverage. We should all try to do a better job of identifying the issues that underlie violence in our town, and be supportive of the folks trying to make a difference.