"I ain't kill them kids"

Dateline: Tue 22 Jan 2008

Thanks to the readers who pointed out that I misquoted the controversial headline in question regarding the Hovey Street murders.

The New York Times ran a good piece Monday on David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun journalist who went on to use his experiences as a cop reporter in that crime-infested, crooked city and his despair with the newsroom to create 'The Wire," an award-winning TV drama.

NYT media reporter David Carr, in his analysis, says Simon has written a tortured love letter to the newspaper business, with the bosses cast as villains. The industry is "the playground of the inept, the venal and the cynical."

Simon's anger is fuel for the show, and what he feels and explores in his writing is held up like a jagged mirror for millions of newspaper people in similar straits if not in therapy. The debate that ensued on this blog regarding that awful callous headline -- so awful I tricked myself into remembering it incorrectly, fixing the poor grammar -- is indicative of what responsible reporters and editors are arguing about every day.

Simon's bigger issue is that newspapers are being ruined by corporate clods and soulless bean-counters who sell out ethics to get a story in print and make money. In a recent episode, there's a good bit depicting a top editor eager to run a piece about a black kid in a wheelchair who shows up at a baseball game on a school day. The kid disappears before the reporter can get a photo of him. The reporter has no last name on the kid, no permission from parents, nothing but "a good read." While the city editor questions using the story without more verification, the top boss overrules his concerns. The half-baked story presumably gets page 1 treatment.

That's the sort of decision-making taking place in corporate-run newsrooms that leaves many of us wringing our hands. In the case of the Hovey Street killings, someone at the top made the decision to consistently play off the grief of victims and victims' families, and, quite frannkly, the illiteracy of one of the accused; it is a culture of death and 15 minutes of fame based on misery, loss and despair.

Where is the examination of what led to the Hovey Street deaths? Where is the deep follow-up?

Newspapers assumed, some time ago, that readers wanted less, not more: hence they came up with gimmicky graphics and sidebars and TalkBack functions; they have tried to turn readers into reporters and photographers. It won't work.

We still want news.

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