Skip to content

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 Angeles, San 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.