Crime Reporting at the Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun’s public editor, or ombudsman, Paul Moore takes a look at how the Baltimore Sun deals with crime reporting in Baltimore.

Unsurprisingly, the Sun deals with it in the same manner of its liberal bedfellow the Washington Post.

There are two key components. First, black on black crime is not reported or reported very shabbily. Now there could be a lot of good reasons for this but so far I haven’t heard one. Second, racial identifiers are usually omitted when suspects are described. For instance,

Reader Gerald H. Treffinger said of a recent news article: “In your story about that 88-year-old woman who was raped … the article failed to note the race or even the coloring of the assailant. Don’t you think it would help other potential victims to know for whom to be on the lookout?”

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Other readers have accused the newspaper of intentionally avoiding racial identifications because it has an ideological agenda that includes denying that race plays a major role in criminal activity.

The article about the rape originally described the attacker as a “black man, between the ages of 20 and 30, 6 feet tall and slim, wearing a gray shirt and tan or khaki pants.” The copy desk eliminated the racial identifier in the published version of the article, but the rest of description was included.

John McIntyre, assistant managing editor/copy desks, said later that The Sun should have published the entire description or no description at all. “Omitting the racial detail alone invites the reader to default to the assumption that the assailant was white. And the remaining details potentially point to too many people to be useful,” he said.

City Editor Howard Libit, who originally edited the story, disagreed: “In this case, I believed that the entire description – including the race of the suspect – was important to include. Taken together, there were enough specific details to justify putting the description in the newspaper.”

Here’s a bit of news for managing editor John McIntyre, actually it is a big joke among anyone who follows the paper because if an assailant is white the race is always mentioned. If there is no race the assumption is that the suspect is black.

Crime reporting isn’t all that hard. That’s why papers used to break in young reporters on the police beat. The fact that the Sun, and the Post, have managed to make it hard and controversial is quite an accomplishment.

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