“ROBBERIES SOARING!” A Media Lesson from Me, A Former Tabloid Journalist

Hi Readers! Did you know I spent 14 years on staff at the New York Daily News? Sure did — and loved it. I was a features writer then promoted to a columnist on the oped page. That was wonderful, too. (Till the day I was let go. But that’s another story.) Anyway, point is, I love newspapers, and tabloids in particular, but they CAN drive readers crazy. Here’s how. This was a headline in The New York Post about a week ago: Robberies Soaring in Prospect Park.

Prospect Park is the Central Park of Brooklyn (designed by the same team, even), so soaring crime there sets hearts sinking. Let’s read all about it:

Leave your iPhone at home when you walk through Prospect Park.

Robberies more than doubled in Brooklyn’s biggest green space over the past year — even as Central Park’s numbers dropped by 13.3 percent.

Doubled! I guess we should all be doubly scared of being robbed any time we approach Prospect Park! And here are the terrifying numbers:

There have been 17 robberies between Jan. 1 and Nov. 23 in Prospect Park, compared with seven in 2011 in the same time span.

Wait — 17 in almost a whole year? In a borough of about 2.5 MILLION? Granted, they don’t all frequent Prospect Park, but it does get 9 MILLION VISITS A YEAR….and apparently 17 robberies. The article continued:

Central Park, meanwhile, had 13 robberies this year, compared with 15 at this time in 2011.

Manhattan’s sprawling park still had more overall so-called “index crimes”— which include assault and grand larceny, among others — but Brooklyn’s total jumped higher over the past year, from 27 to 31, compared with Central Park’s 92, an increase of only two crimes from 2011.

 To talk about those numbers in an article clearly designed to ignite dismay and fear — “Robberies Soaring” — is so outrageous as to constitute an almost Pravda-like disregard for what is really going on. What’s going on is SAFETY! Not perfect safety — that’s impossible. But numbers that don’t reach even the TRIPLE digits in either park when it comes to crime? In America’s largest city, a city that gets more than 40 million visitors a year?
Neither park had any murders and only Central Park had a rape.

Victoria O’Leary, of Park Slope, was walking through the park two weeks ago while talking on her Blackberry when two men grabbed her phone and ran off.

“From now on, when I walk I tell women to be careful,” she said yesterday.

It’s a fine idea to be careful. I recommend it. But it appears the vast majority of park-goers could have been chatting away on prototype iPhone9’s without losing them to a thug.

Knowing newspapers, I’m pretty sure the reporter was assigned a story his editor knew would make readers curse the world and feel informed. My own editor told me that in deciding what gets in the paper, the maxim is: “People want to know what could kill them.”

At Free-Range Kids we fight the uphill battle of trying to remind the world that most things won’t do that. In fact, here in New York we’re so safe in our parks it’s almost criminal!

Just not the kind of criminal that makes it into the paper.

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Prospect Park: A hotbed of non-crime.

27 Responses to “ROBBERIES SOARING!” A Media Lesson from Me, A Former Tabloid Journalist

  1. Warren November 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Great, now you shouldn’t carry your phone in the park. That is a smart group of crooks, steal the item that they would use to call for help.

    You are smack on the money. They use the term robbery to describe the tech equivlant of purse snatching. They run, grab and run. But the term robbery tends to invoke thoughts of violence and weapons.

    But it sells papers.

  2. Yan Seiner November 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    OK, I gotta post this link:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/03/23/true-fact-the-lack-of-pirates-is-causing-global-warming/

    Yes folks, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Of course, then there’s
    “sell more copies with lies masquerading as facts”, but remember, I turned you on to the real reason for global warming: lack of pirates. So put on your pirate hat and fight global warming.

    For the original and more “science”, google Flying Spagetti Monster.

  3. Donald November 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Fear and dis-pare are powerful emotions that trigger off biochemical impulses. As with any drug, a continual supply will become addicting. This addiction is the same as an addiction to cocaine! It’s true that the fear or dis-pare chemicals are not as fun as recreational drugs. However, the body still feels a chemical withdraw unless it receives it’s fix of bad news.

    Some aspects of the news media have a similar role as tobacco companies.

    I love Lenore’s comment

    My own editor told me that in deciding what gets in the paper, the maxim is: “People want to know what could kill them.”

  4. McCord42 November 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    No Person Got Shot, Stabbed, Slashed, or Murdered in NYC Monday

    http://news.yahoo.com/no-person-got-shot-stabbed-slashed-murdered-nyc-153318577.html

    This is some good news.

  5. McCord42 November 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    Here is the correct link to the NY1 article referenced in the above article.
    http://www.ny1.com/content/172989/nypd–no-murders–shootings–stabbings-reported-on-monday

  6. Emily November 28, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    @Donald–If your editor puts sensationalist headlines in the newspaper because “people want to know what could kill them,” have you ever pointed out that PARANOIA can kill people?

  7. Donald November 29, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    @ emily
    I agree that paranoia can kill people. Many doctors agree that many ailments are stressed related. These ailments can eventually become fatal!

    That’s why I get angry at all the paranoia that were are teaching children. Many people think that’s the best way to keep them from harm.

    Hover over them and teach them to be afraid of strangers. Run the other way and call the police even if they ask for directions!
    Think the worst in every situation.

  8. Donald November 29, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    Sorry. Just to clear things up

    I’m not saying that stress is the cause of many ailments. I’m saying that stress aggravates many ailments

  9. Dave November 29, 2012 at 3:36 am #

    I had the same response when I read that same report in the local blog. The headline said Crimes Doubled. If I onlybread the headline as many people do I would have then up a for sensing and taken off to a gates community the suburbs were I could be over police but safe. But alas it turns out I am safe in Brooklyn because there is almost no crime in prospect Park.

  10. Jespren November 29, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    I keep trying to tell my (more anxious/hellicopter-y) husband: if it hits the news it’s because it’s so rare as to be news worthy. If there ever comes a day when kidnappings (for instance) are reported like traffic accidents, in a little plain print list buried in the back of the newpaper’s police blotter*then* they will be worry-worthy.

  11. Captain America November 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    More fun questions looking for statistical answers:

    Consider a story about Any City USA’s murder rate—

    TO what extent is increased personal fear and anxiety generated by newspaper stories causing deaths?

    Is this additional public stress causing more deaths than the reported deaths?

  12. Hels November 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Eh, I like to remind people who tell me about something they read/saw/heard in the media – media is not there to inform you, media is there to make money. Get over it.

  13. Warren November 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Just read a headline, about NYPD

  14. Warren November 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Sorry, cold fingers. The headline was about 36 hours of peace, for the NYPD. Apparently the city went 36 hours without experiencing certain crimes, for the first time ever.

    But I am sure people will say the city isnt safe.

  15. Donald November 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    @Captain America

    Good one

    Is this additional public stress causing more deaths than the reported deaths?

    However I don’t pin all blame on the news media. The gullible public need to cop some as well. They are the one that demand sensationalism. The papers print it because they seek it.

    As Hels pointed out, “media is not there to inform you, media is there to make money”

    Many don’t know the difference. They swallow the sensationalized stories hook, line, and sinker.

  16. Havva November 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    @Hels…
    Sounds like one of my extended family members. When I was a teen he asked me if I knew what product the [TV] new produce? Hint: Not news. He pointed out that their money comes from advertising, and the rates they can charge are determined by the number of viewers. Therefore, the product they sell is YOU, the viewer.
    Took a bit of time to sink in, but has altered my news consumption patterns entirely.

  17. Nanci November 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Just this morning on the Today show they were doing a segment on toy safety. They were saying how parents need to be cautious and make sure the toys their children are playing with are safe and blah blah blah. Then they say that when it comes to unsafe toys the numbers are staggering, just last year in the United States 13 children died from toys!!!! They actually had a giant number 13 on the screen! It was laughable! I’m very sorry for the families of those 13 children, but any activity that hundreds of millions of people do everyday that only kills 13 per year is pretty darn safe!!

  18. Donald November 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    TV has always viewed shows that the audience know is fake. Viewers enjoy the fabricated sensationalism. Roller Derby, and All Star Wrestling where real eye openers. I remember the 1970’s tv car crashes that looked more like a diving competition. Once I saw a car chase with Jon and Paunch that ended up as a half pike double somersault with a ¾ twist!

    As this trend spills more and more into the news media, I start to regard CNN in the same stature as Gilligan’s Island. Whenever I see headlines such as ‘ROBBERIES SOARING’ I have visions of the professor gathering bamboo and palm leaves so that he can build a dentists office!

  19. Angelica November 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    OMG, they…. they….. could steal my phone! OMG, I’m terrified! I’m never leaving the house again!

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  20. pentamom November 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Nine million visits a year, and someone does a cellphone snatch EVERY THREE WEEKS! Place makes Mogadishu look like a preschool playground.

  21. Andy November 30, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    @Havva Just curios: how and why did that knowledge altered your consumption patterns?

  22. pentamom November 30, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    And just to expand on Havva’s point, the same is true for all media that contains ads — newspapers, magazines, radio, etc. The content is the medium for delivering the

  23. pentamom November 30, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Ugh, sorry — the ads. The content is not the final product.

  24. Havva November 30, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    @ Andy,
    It made me look at what was being said with a critical eye and I quickly realized the extent to which my own mind had been ranking sensationalism over actually meaningful events. I also realized that the speed of delivery prevented me from really thinking about the statistics they were delivering to determine if those things were truly alarming. In fact the statistics were often meaningless but put there to make the issue look weighty.

    I switched to print/online media so I could take in the information at a pace that allowed me to figure out if “Robberies soaring” actually meant danger, or slight up tick in a negligible crime rate. I don’t skim upsetting stories anymore. I also developed a real regard for links and sighting sources. I’ve reached the point to where if I see something, and it still bothers me after a thoughtful reading of the article, I’ll go do some research. (Thank you internet!) I’ve gotten really good at digging up source material. I also check comments on original articles if things make no sense.

    Take for example, the little kid that got ticketed to the tune of $2,400 for peeing in his front yard. And the mom said the cops were camped out down the street all the time as if they had nothing better to do. If you look at the first article in the home town paper, there are comments from some of the neighbors. The neighbors comments are really spiteful to that whole family. They believed the older children in the family were the source of a lot of nuisance/criminal mischief in the neighborhood. The neighbors begged the police to “do something” about that family. Makes it look like the cop just pounced on the first ticket-able thing he witnessed and slapped a huge fine on that, in the hopes it could stand in as punishment for the rest of what people believed that family was doing. It was a ridiculous act, but it wasn’t really about the kid taking a leak.

    Mostly I just sample news from the sections/topis that interest me. I flag things of interest to go back and look for updates from time to time. The Costa Concordia cruise ship sinking is on my list. I want to see the time laps when that gets lifted off the rocks. It’s not time sensitive or critical info. Just interesting.

    The front page news, major weather events disasters… these are all things that people will talk about. I’ll skim headlines, and if people are buzzing about it, then I can go look into it as much or as little as I need/care to.

    Frankly considering how far I had come, It is embarrassing that I fell for the parenting magazines at all. When they were just discussing products, nursery decorating, “necessary items” I knew it was advertising. But I didn’t realize the “baby safety tips” that didn’t so much as mention outlet plugs were also marketing. When I went looking for info on determining when to phase OUT safety products, and started reading stuff focused on ages I remember being. Then I realized that their job was to make me a fearful mom, not a confident mom who know and loves all the designer names and latest products. So I did what I always do when I’m not satisfied with an article, opinion, perspective, etc. I went looking for the counterpoint.

  25. Andy December 2, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    @Havva Thank you for the answer, it was good read :).

  26. Ginette December 9, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    I was just going to say I’m getting sick of these heist fkcils but then realized the severe weather spin. lol sounds pretty cool. I’d love to see some guys rob a bank during a full blown tsunami.

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