We all know the stereotypes about TV news.
“If it bleeds, it leads.”
“It’s nothing but shootings, car crashes and house fires.”
But we also know the reality in our community is that most people won’t be affected by crime today or tomorrow.
Most of our neighborhoods are safe. And even in neighborhoods that battle crime there are positives.
That’s why at WCPO9 News we are rethinking our approach to crime coverage. Our goal -- as always -- is to more accurately tell the story of what is happening here in the Tri-State.
If our newscasts and website show you mostly crime, that’s not painting an accurate picture of our community.
Here is a look at how we plan to cover crime moving forward.
Let’s start with shootings.
So far in 2020, there were 373 shootings in the city of Cincinnati. And shootings don't just happen in Cincinnati. Covington responded to 23 shootings by Sept 11. West Chester has had one shooting so far this year.
Many of these shootings were minor. Someone was shot in the leg. The injuries -- while painful -- were not life-threatening. For example, in Cincinnati there have been more than 300 nonfatal shootings so far this year. That’s more than one per day.
Previously, we covered many of these shootings as if they were major news. With hundreds of shootings in the region last year, the fact that someone was shot is no longer incredibly newsworthy. Just like a car crash with injuries is no longer newsworthy. There are many of them.
Moving forward, we will send a crew to nearly all shootings to gather information. But we are now only covering shootings on TV and online if the shooting is fatal -- unless there are extenuating circumstances. Extenuating circumstances could include:
- If the shooting is in an unusual or high-profile location, such as Fountain Square.
- If the shooting has a large public impact (schools are locked down, a major road is closed).
- The age of the victim (if the victim is under 18 we likely will cover it).
- If the victim is a high-profile person.
In addition to these criteria for covering individual shootings, we will look for trends and other factors that make shooting stories relevant and important to share with our audience.
Here are some of our other philosophies and policies we are adopting when it comes to crime coverage:
- If a crime is worth covering, it is worth following up. Will we follow the coverage of this case as it makes its way through the court process?
- At the same time, we are reducing the amount of coverage we give for first appearance court hearings. Instead of frequently covering these hearings, we intend to only cover major crimes in these hearings such as murder, rape and arson. There could be exceptions to this rule.
- We will generally not identify juveniles (a person under the age of 18 years old), unless they are charged as an adult.
- We generally won’t report school threats unless:
- Police believe there is a public danger or credible threat.
- The school is placed on lockdown/parents are unable to access children.
- The threat impacts traffic/commute.
- We will report if a school is closed because of a threat and can report if the suspect who made the threat is charged.
- I wrote in January about our policy on using mug shots.
- I wrote in February about our standards when it comes to describing crime suspects.
We hope that these changes help us more accurately tell the story of what is happening in our community.
Please feel free to let me know how you think we are doing. If you have other ideas of how we should be choosing what crime stories to cover, let us know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.