Procedural Cop Drama

Let’s start with the controversial statement: Black Lives Matter.

Yes, we can also acknowledge that they aren’t the only ones that do. The reason those lives in particular are significant right now, is that they’re the ones being killed disproportionately right now, often by police.

Let’s also acknowledge that it’s not all cops: There are good cops, and there are bad ones. One bad apple does not actually spoil the bunch (except in your crisper drawer, although I think we can all agree this is not where the majority of news happens).

The Sci-fi version of the adage goes: one alien worm can infect the whole ship.

It’s always been particularly jarring for me to see bad cops coming to the fore when I consider the police officers I have worked with in the past: During my time as a journalist, I worked in a handful of towns and with the local law enforcement in each one. One of the departments in particular, as I got to know them best in nearly 2 years working with them, really impressed me with their openness to the press and to the people who would wander in. I spent a good couple of hours copying police blotter items from a public terminal behind the front desk in the station, and overheard a number of people come in with any number of complaints (none of which I recall or ever recorded for the paper).

My sense is that the Chief of Police in that town affected the department. He came to all of the discussions hosted by the town’s governing about installing an automated license plate readers on a couple of their vehicles. The Chief of Police attended several of the town’s Board of Selectmen meetings, listened not only to the arguments the Selectmen made, but to the townspeople who were concerned about the technology’s potential to invade privacy of ordinary citizens. Leadership can make a huge difference.

The discussion ultimately ran long enough that a potential grant the local PD could have used to purchase the technology ran out. The department said they might explore other grants in future and would try to develop a better policy for the future. Since leaving the town, news coverage there has been a bit spottier, but I couldn’t really dig up anything more recent than my articles about the topic, so it may have died there three years ago (I lost track of the story and could be wrong, though).

It’s anecdotal evidence that doesn’t at all exonerate police officers who are not upholding the laws evenly to all people. Your mileage may vary. While the counter-refrain that “All lives matter” is not an incorrect statement, it’s mostly associated with either serious misunderstandings, or outright lies about Black Lives Matter as a movement and as a slogan. The cops who are out there, and are actually trying to do good work certainly deserve our praise. Those who are committing atrocities in our name deserve to be called out and stopped.

My point is this: We’re hearing about bad cops and not good ones because there is a bias against those positive stories, but it’s not the bias the right-wing “news” machine is constantly banging on about. It may actually be a bias that Rupert Murdoch created: the bias to sensationalism. Another observation from my admittedly short years as a journalist was about the types of content that did well. The stories that I loved, poured my heart and soul into, and spent my time chasing down were invariably the ones that got a quarter of the reach of the stories I kind of hated and copied from police-provided materials: the police blotter from that public terminal and the arrest logs (which were handed to me with personal details redacted).

I’ll admit, I’m not an expert and this is a partially researched idea, so I may not be able to lie the blame at the feet of Fox and Murdoch, but I do know what the end result looks like: It looks like stories that fit into a prevailing narrative getting more attention. It looks like news outlets taking a relatively minor kerfuffle over Starbucks making their coffee cups minimalist, and plopping it on your Facebook feed, so you can mock the ‘War on Christmas’ crowd. They in turn will see our mockery and take that as clear signs of a liberal conspiracy, and it’ll feed up through their news-based echo chambers. Both sides will make a huge ado about cups we ultimately toss in the trash, and the people writing the articles will rake in the ad revenue.

What I’m saying is this: If you want the news to be better, start reading better. Stop sharing articles that aggregate three or four tweets into a news story Look for stories that get to the heart of the matter. Do you want to see less of a media firestorm about random crap? Find stories about things you’re actually interested in, share those instead. Do engage in the Facebook-based whack-a-mole that is unfollowing crappy viral “news” outlets. I encourage you to challenge yourself by trying to find stories that challenge your understanding of a narrative, even if that may not be for everyone–if you are going to do it, though, stick to sources you recognize and trust.

And this is how you unfollow a news source.

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