This is a fascinating entry on the L.A. Times‘s Homicide Blog:
“One reporter? One single reporter?”
Solomon Martin, 71, was forthright about what he thought about a reporter for The Homicide Report walking down his Compton street last month after a homicide.
“They send you, by yourself? Where are your lights? Where are your trucks? Your cameras?” he demanded. “You can tell your supervisor that I was displeased! Displeased with you coming out here with a little digital camera–a little digital camera–for this! Where are your trucks?” Martin, a retired school-district worker, assumed a look of disgust. “One single reporter,” he repeated. “To do a story that will be three lines on page 20.”
Where are the trucks, Mr. Martin? I’ll tell you. They’re downtown, covering Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, you were certainly naive to assume that Quanisha Pitts would merit any space at all in the vaunted print edition:
The story was about 17-year-old Quanisha Pitts, who was killed down the block from where Martin lives. In fact, the write-up didn’t appear in the Los Angeles Times print edition, but rather on this web page. But even here, the space was short, and Martin is quite correct in noting that many homicides covered by The Times are afforded only briefs of a few lines buried within the California section, or the scantest mention on the lists published here.
What Mr. Martin fails to understand is that, in serious journalism, you have to prioritize. There just isn’t space for every slaughtered teenaged black girl in Compton — not when the paper has to find room for a dozen stories about Paris Hilton.
Count ’em up. Meanwhile, Quanisha Pitts doesn’t even merit three lines in the print edition.
Martin and two of his neighbors, who soon join the conversation, believe murders in Compton in particular get short shrift. They are disturbed in ways that they struggled to articulate by the way media outlets treat stories about the killings of their city’s men and women.
“It’s the way you report it,” said Martin’s neighbor, military reservist Walt Graham, 53, (near left, above) who came over from his front yard. “It’s just going to be someone killed in Compton, on page 25,” he said.
“Just another story. Another minority kid. So what.”
Well, if the reaction of the news media is any gauge, this story is not a thousandth as important as the plight of Paris Hilton — a white woman who is rich and famous due to no particular talent — having to go to jail for a few days for violating probation.
Celebrity homicides are covered differently, they contend, as are those rare killings in nice neighborhoods, such as that of the college student killed in Westwood years ago. “When does the value of life in this community matter as much as in another community?” Graham demanded. “Is the life of that young lady any less important?”
The effect, said Martin, is to create an impression that people in Compton are somehow different–that their concerns can somehow be discounted. “You let them know that we want the same things as people in Torrance and Beverly Hills,” he said. “We don’t want to worry about someone shooting up our house. We want the same protection.”
“You tell your editors to get down here, that they don’t have to be afraid of us,” he concluded.
They’re not afraid of you, Mr. Martin. Well, maybe some of them are . . . but that’s not why they’re not covering Ms. Pitts’s story in the print edition. It just won’t sell. Don’t you get it? The L.A. Times isn’t going to have its largest month in Web traffic ever by running stories about Quanisha Pitts.
P.S. You can’t blame Jill Leovy of the Homicide Blog. She’s doing the best she can to cover the epidemic of killings in South Central.
UPDATE: Here is Ms. Pitts’s picture, from a MySpace page found on Google: