My interest was pricked by a tweet I spotted last week: “New report slams inept hacks.” It linked to a report in the Financial Times about research on how reporters’ language affected the financial markets.
The bones of the study was that reporters used more extreme language when reporting falls, than when reporting rises on the stock market. More than that, their reporting affected how the market reacted.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t own many shares so, well, who cares?
Leaving aside the fact that the performance of the economy affects all our livelihoods directly or indirectly, this story has parallels with the rest of the media. It’s not just the financial hacks who get the balance wrong. The truth is bad news sells papers, or gets clicks on your website.
We set up South Leeds Life because we thought the coverage of South Leeds in the mainstream media was too negative, but I now worry that South Leeds Life could become part of the problem.
February was a good month for us, readership figures wise, with over 40,000 page views. We published lots of good news stories about new projects, opportunities, achievements in schools, etc. But a quick look at our most viewed stories shows what was interesting to our readers: a brothel, an attempted robbery, a girl being grabbed, a drugs raid, a sexual assault, an armed police operation and CCTV to be installed in Cross Flatts Park (I’ll come back to that last story).
We do try to be careful about how we report crime stories. We try not to sensationalise, we usually stick pretty closely to the Police press release, but if ten times as many people read that story than read about school children using virtual reality to study the world, which message is getting over louder and clearer?
The problem is exacerbated by social media where most people don’t click through to read the actual story. You have to be careful when posting to balance getting a clear message over with phrasing a teaser that will encourage people to click on the link.
I sometimes wonder if we should stop covering crime stories, but that’s not really a solution. Readers have as much right to read about bad things as good things. One of the positives about the South Leeds community is that we are not ashamed to admit that we’re a bit rough around the edges. And it wouldn’t help the police when they are appealing for information and witnesses.
The question of what is bad news and what is good brings me back to Cross Flatts Park and the CCTV. I listed amongst the bad news, but the overwhelming reaction from readers was positive.
Personally I have a lot of misgivings about the widespread use of CCTV, but even if I thought it was the solution, surely installing it in our park is an admission of failure?
Leaving that aside, why has it become so important to bring CCTV to the park. Has South Leeds Life contributed to a climate of fear by reporting on the negative incidents that sometimes go on in the park? Once again it was reading comments on social media that disturbed me. “A beautiful park and afraid to use it” and “It was a lovely park. I have childhood memories from that park. Now I certainly would not let any child of mine go to this park.”
I use Cross Flatts Park regularly and I have never felt unsafe there. I am a middle aged (reasonably fit) white man and usually have a dog with me. I understand that makes a difference to how I feel and how others view me, but provided you are sensible it is not a dangerous place that you need to avoid.
There have been some very nasty incidents, but rarely in daylight. If you are a lone female then you may be at a higher risk, but the women I know are always very aware of the safety of their surroundings, be that in a park or any other public space.
Our greatest defence against bad things happening is not CCTV but other people. The park is dangerous when there are few people about, it is safer if more of us use it. I’m glad to say that most of the time, in daylight anyway, there are lots of people in Cross Flatts doing lots of positive things: getting exercise, walking their dogs, or playing with their children.
I hope this column redresses the balance somewhat, but I fear it won’t get nearly as many clicks as a good old crime report.
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.