What isn’t news part II or how not to cover a murder

Since we’re already on the subject and to prove the DH isn’t the only paper I pick on, let’s discuss the Courier-News’ coverage of the recent murder of an 85 year-old East Dundee woman.

But first, please let me offer my sincere condolences to her family. Clearly, no one should have to meet this kind of untimely end in their own home.   Courier-News-Logo

And even though the Courier isn’t the only one, given their increasing reliance on abysmally paid “stringers” (free-lance reporters) and downtown folks who’ve never set foot in Elgin, they are certainly the worst newspaper in this regard.

It starts with sensationalizing these murders by making them appear to be a completely random event. But the truth is, they virtually never are and even the worst reporter knows that 80 percent of homicide victims knew their attacker.

Given that a neighbor noted this woman always locked both of her doors, it’s even less likely there’s some sort of serial killer out there. But that kind of analysis, though accurate, isn’t nearly as exciting as the loony on the loose theory.

And once you’ve riled your readers up, now you want to move on to embellishing the cause of death with something like this:

“East Dundee Police Department personnel and members of the Kane County Major Crimes Task Force were called to the scene at that time to begin a possible crime and crime scene investigation. The post-mortem exam resulted in a determination by the forensic pathologist that the death was the result of blood loss due to a stab wound.”

Call me crazy, but doesn’t, “Police determined the victim died of a stab wound,” do the same thing?

Which, by the way, is further evidence the victim knew her attacker and let him or her into the house without incident. Extrapolating a little bit further, I’d be willing to bet she was killed with one of her own knives after an argument of some sort, likely with a relative.

The fact that nothing was taken combined with the single stab wound clearly indicates an amateur striking out in fit of rage and fleeing once they realized what they’d done. Though I can’t guarantee that’s what happened, I can guarantee you the East Dundee Police are focusing on the family first and they already have someone in mind.

So why make it sound like it something else?

This sad story requires just two entries – one reporting the murder and another covering the arrest – but the Courier just had to run a “Neighbors react to East Dundee murder” piece to further promote the serial killer theory and convince nearby families they immediately need to hide in their basements.

First, what are the neighbors gonna say? “She was a real bleep who had it coming to her?” Of course not! They’ll offer the obligatory, “We can’t believe this happened here and we can’t imagine anyone ever harming this great lady,” which is the lowest of all the low hanging fruit because it adds nothing to the story.

And how do you know one of the neighbors didn’t do it and you’re tipping ’em off? Why do I need a newspaper to tell me what regular folks are thinking? I can just step outside for that kind of thing.

So my advice to reporters and their editors is this:

1. Stop trying to turn these murders into arbitrary occurrences because you know that’s rarely the case and it’s utterly disingenuous to do so.

2. Stop sensationalizing these homicides. In the words of the great John Donne, “…any man’s death diminishes me because I am part of mankind…,” so we really don’t need you to go all Quentin Tarantino on us.

3. Stop interviewing neighbors about these tragedies, that’s what the comments section is for and that’s why I avoid the comments section We want to hear a seasoned voice weigh in on these kinds of events.

I understand that reporters can’t speculate like we did here, but that doesn’t absolve them from this absurd embellishing either. Because any time any newspaper engages in this kind of pointless reporting, the end of the local print media comes that much closer.

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