Book cracks case on crime coverage

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Romayne Smith Fullerton

When Romayne Smith Fullerton and Chris Richardson first came up with the idea of compiling a collection of essays on crime coverage in Canada, both saw it as an opportunity. Not only could they showcase the challenges that exist in a popular part of the media landscape, but they could also bridge the gap between those who teach and those who practice journalism.

“Crime is so interesting, across a variety of disciplines, but also in the general public. Everyone loves CSI; everyone is enamoured with crime stories. The media is enamoured with crime stories, with the whole, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ approach,” said Smith Fullerton, who teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) and a professor in the Master of Media in Journalism & Communication program.

Smith Fullarton recently compiled and co-edited Covering Canadian Crime: What Journalists Should Know and the Public Should Question with Richardson, a professor in the Department of Communications Studies at Young Harris College.

Featuring perspectives, accounts and interviews with some of Canada’s best-known reporters, the book offers a look at challenges of covering crime stories that involve a ‘death knock,’ youth, gangs, minority groups and even high-profile cases covered by the media, including the Banditos trial and the Ipperwash crisis.

How do reporters ensure sensitive cases are approached and covered ethically? How – and what – information is presented to the public? What is withheld? How do external factors, such as police or courtroom culture, business or technology, influence media reports?

Writing, compiling and co-editing the book also proved a good exercise in approaching journalistic practice through a critical, academic lens. It’s something that hasn’t been done before, Smith Fullerton noted.

“As long as I can remember, there’s been a kind of antagonism between people who practice journalism and those who teach it. We wanted to bridge that divide. We wanted it to be an interdisciplinary text, which it is. It has representations from journalism, media studies, cultural studies, health, criminology, sociology. It’s really across the board in terms of academic approaches,” she explained.

To help bridge that divide and offer critical, however insightful perspectives from practicing journalists, Smith Fullarton and Richardson approached well-known Canadian journalists, including Christie Blatchford, Timothy Appleby, Linden MacIntyre, Kim Bolan and Peter Edwards, asking them to share their experiences and perspectives on crime reporting.

Clifford Christians, a distinguished professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Illinois, praised the resulting collection, calling it the “definitive book on crime coverage in Canada,” one that is well-researched, superbly written and goes beyond simply filling an empty niche.

On Dec. 7, Smith Fullerton will give a talk, Naming (or not naming) Names: An International Comparison of Crime Coverage, at the London Public Library’s Masonville Branch as part of FIMS’ #PublicInterest Lecture Series. The talk will focus on the fifth chapter of Covering Canadian Crime, discussing the practice of naming names and providing details in crime coverage.

While an individual accused of a crime in North America often becomes the focus of media scrutiny, with their name, age and background made public, providing a name and intimate details about the accused is not routine in other parts of the world, Smith Fullerton noted. Why are these journalistic practices different and what do the practices suggest about privacy, the public right to know, and justice itself?

IF YOU GO

Romayne Smith Fullerton will give a talk, Naming (or not naming) Names: An International Comparison of Crime Coverage, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the London Public Library’s Masonville Branch as part of FIMS’ #PublicInterest Lecture Series. The talk will focus on the fifth chapter of Covering Canadian Crime, discussing the practice of naming names and providing details in crime coverage.