“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.

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