Local Paper Tars City with Knee-Jerk Headline

Since when is it okay for the Oakland Tribune refer to Oakland as “crime central” in huge font in the lead front page headline?

A lot of people complain that the media are biased against Oakland—that they focus too much on Oakland’s crime and not enough on the good aspects of Oakland, that they depict Oakland as nothing but a violent wasteland, etc., etc. I am not one of those people: while I think that press coverage of Oakland could be dramatically improved (press coverage of everything could be dramatically improved), blaming Oakland’s bad reputation on the media instead of on the actual crime and violence and blight amounts to putting one’s head in the sand.

That said, “crime central” is over the top, especially for a nominally hometown paper which is supposed to have a more nuanced understanding of the city than, say, that other paper across the bay, or the national press. When I went out to walk the dog and picked up the paper from my stoop this morning, I was puzzled at first, wondering if the headline was referring to a particular neighborhood or intersection, because I couldn’t believe that the Tribune would actually paint the city as a whole with such a broad brush in huge letters above the fold on the front page. When I saw the subhead, however, I realized that indeed they were actually referring to the entire city of Oakland as “crime central.”

In the Trib’s defense, the article itself is okay (although pointing out that cities as varied as New York, Los AngelesSan Francisco, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen far more dramatic decreases in violent crime might have been nice), and the online version of the headline is unobjectionable, albeit uninspired (“Data: Oakland crime down 10 percent in 2009”). So this is likely a case of a copy editor trying to quickly dash off a punchy headline, and too few editorial eyeballs there on a New Year’s Eve to second guess the decision. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that headline would have made it into print if the Tribune were still a truly local operation, instead of being part of a chain of mostly suburban papers, whose coverage of Oakland and surrounding neighborhoods seems increasingly to merge with that of the Contra Costa Times and other affiliated papers. The move of the newsroom out of the landmark Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, and into a bland office building next to a freeway a few years ago may not have made a real difference in its coverage, but as symbolism goes, it’s pretty lousy: Local Paper Abandons City Center for Office Park Near Airport.

12 Responses to “Local Paper Tars City with Knee-Jerk Headline”

  1. Robin Wells says:

    My first time here (thanks to VSmoothe). And thanks to you for calling out the Trib for this egregious headline. Almost curdled the milk on my oatmeal this morning.

  2. len raphael says:

    nothing offensive or distorted about that headline. quite factual since oakland is comfortably in the top tier of crime ridden cities. wish the article was as sharp as the headline

    yes the article parroted local officals who are so quick to take credit when crime rates drop but blame national condtions whenever they increase.

    in fact we don’t have a clue if it was anything we did to decrease homicide rates, or increase certain other rates. if we had the bucks to improve and feed data to our crime and policing info system, and could trust our officials not to game the stats, then we could begin to figure out what efforts work and which don’t.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  3. jenny says:

    crime is down? sure doesn’t feel like it in my neighborhood. ask the people in the laurel, dimond, maxwell park, and allendale park. it’s like a war zone out here.

  4. dc says:

    Len,

    I don’t dispute Oakland’s spot in the top tier of crime ridden cities. My main problem with “crime central” in the headline isn’t that it’s factually inaccurate—my problem with it is that it’s not a term whose accuracy can even be usefully debated, since it’s more an epithet than anything else. I wouldn’t take issue with someone calling Oakland “crime central” on top of a blog post, or an opinion column, but I don’t think it belongs on top of a news article in a paper which, as far as I know, still aspires to a dispassionate tone in its news pages. (My preference for more clinical language in the headline especially applies in this case, since the article is about crime statistics rather than something fuzzier like perceptions of crime, or how crime has affected people’s feelings about Oakland in neighborhoods like yours or mine or Jenny’s, or something like that.)

    I agree with you about the unknowns. Since violent crime is down even more dramatically in the other cities I mentioned in the post, I wonder if more people should be asking what Oakland has done wrong in the past couple of years, instead of asking what it has done right. My sense, anecdotally from talking to people and reading my local NCPC listserve, is that crime in my particular neighborhood along Park Blvd has ticked up a bit in the past month or two, but I haven’t seen or heard any hard statistics, and thankfully we still seem to be mostly free of the more violent crimes which plague other parts of the city.

  5. bennett says:

    Actually that headline reads like something out of Fox’s playbook. Or, is this all just about selling printed pages. Either way, they are running on fumes as a business and hopefully they will survive in some form

    Meanwhile – crime is citywide – we live at the top of the hill in Montclair – last three months – neighbor on the right and two doors down on left burgled, us robbed from car – brand new printer with serial number – but since there ZERO database integration for stolen property, even if recovered it will merely be sold to benefit the police auction of another City. Meanwhile, a worker of ours was held up a shotgun on the flats by “masked African American’s” and had his tires slashed the week after by a coke head that has a paranoia problem. Truly, this is just not working anymore.

    That said, we are pretty out of ideas – losing our home shortly anyway -along with millions of others, the future is particularly murky and us hiring people right now is shall we say postponed. In a country that choose to bail its banks and Wall Street (the “master minds” of all this) over its people, the only thing I know for sure, is that it is hail Mary time and a few brave Executive Orders from our fearless leader would be well received

  6. dto510 says:

    Thanks for writing this. I was walking by a newsrack and did a double-take when I saw this headline – it really is outrageous. Also, I was confused, because I thought it could have been about Richmond.

  7. dc says:

    Looking at the photo again today, I just noticed that they added “An Edition of the San Jose Mercury News” in small print under the nameplate. Last week it said “Serving Oakland for 135 years” in that spot (the “serving Oakland” phrase remains, but has moved up above the logo). The swallowing of the Tribune by its larger-circulation siblings continues apace…

  8. jack b dazzle says:

    Oakland is Crime Central and I am not only talking about our city government.

    I live and work in Oakland, and I call it crime central. Those of us that don’t say it out loud, think it.

    Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

  9. avoice says:

    As a resident of what some statistics show as the safest city in Los Angeles County, Glendale, I was unaware that Oakland topped the crime list. (which list, national,state, county?) What amazes me is how much difference a few miles makes. Here in L.A. county, there is a city called Compton, which is relatively small, and only about twelve miles down the freeway from Glendale, and I’ll bet its crime statistics are higher than Oakland’s. By the way, Jack, I like that “the Nile” pun. I may steal it, but not from Glendale; I want to keep the slate clean here. Keeps insurance rates lower.

  10. dc says:

    Avoice: No one here said Oakland topped any crime list, but everyone seems to agree that it’s in the top tier.

    I don’t want to damage your LA County pride, but there’s a good chance you’d lose that bet, although it probably depends which particular metrics one chooses. Every year an outfit called CQ Press (once affiliated with Congressional Quarterly, but no longer) crunches some FBI crime statistics to produce a list of the cities with the country’s highest crime rates. Every year, Oakland, Compton, and Richmond take spots somewhere in the top 15. And every year, officials in Oakland complain that the methodology is flawed, and that Oakland is getting a bad rap. (The lines have been rehearsed so many times that you could just change the dates and put out last year’s press releases, and no one would notice.) Anyway, in the most recent list, Oakland was #3 (behind Camden, NJ and St. Louis), Compton was #12, and Richmond was #14.

    I always find it weird that people choose to quibble about whether Oakland deserves to be in the top 5 or not, when (tired clichés about rivers in Egypt notwithstanding) it’s obvious to everyone that Oakland has a totally unacceptable violent crime rate, and that something needs to be done about it. (Where people start disagreeing is when you start talking about what should be done.) One reason that people are impressed by our new police chief is that he seems more interested in addressing the crime problem than in nitpicking about Oakland’s place on the CQ Press list. That’s a refreshing change from his feckless predecessor.

  11. avoice says:

    This morning the LA Times published an interesting list consisting of the names of 40 people who have been murdered in Los Angeles County to date this year, and showing on a map the places where they have been murdered. Note that Compton and Compton adjacent areas account for 13 of those deaths. http://projects.latimes.com/homicide/map/ Each murder is accompanied by a brief account of what is known about the victim and the circumstancs. Forty murders in an area containing over 12 million people is i suppose not a startling statistic, but compared to England is a lot. How many murders can Oakland boast in January?

  12. dc says:

    Oakland hasn’t had very many homicides this year, it seems to me. I don’t know the exact number, but I would guess that it’s closer to 5 than to 10, and the most recent one was some kind of weird domestic dispute (murder and attempted suicide). The rainy weather this month may have been a factor, or it could just be a fluke, but it’s seemed pretty quiet. I think that Richmond, with a much smaller population than Oakland, has had more murders than Oakland so far. San Francisco, which has larger population than Oakland but usually has fewer homicides, may also have had more homicides so far this year. We’ll see if Oakland’s relatively quiet January is a harbinger of a quiet year (I think that the murder rate typically spikes in summer and fall). Even the anecdotal reports I hear about muggings and robberies in my fairly quiet and safe neighborhood seem to have subsided in the past month, but again, that could be due to the stormy weather. Criminals don’t like to be out in the rain; nor do their potential victims.

    Update: I just double-checked, and it seems that Oakland’s had about 5 murders this year, which sounds lower than recent if you extrapolate it as an annual rate, but not all months are created equal—for instance, as of Feb. 25th of 2009, we had only had 9 homicides here (down 60% from the same period in 2008), but we still ended 2009 with 108 (down only about 15% from 2008). So you can’t necessarily take a limited time period in the winter months as a guide to how the rest of the year will go.

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