Because controversial issues drive the news media train, news media will almost always lead with the most controversial aspect of a news story. That’s why news stories that involve homeless people will often spend a good deal of it’s column space to the fact that a homeless person was involved. This is just as true in tv news as in any other.
There are many negative consequences to this approach, for the homeless, and whenever I get an opportunity to discuss the issue with people in the news industry, I give them an earful. Such as was the case with yesterday’s movie theater attack. (i may have been a bit harsh with the reporter, but I wanted to get my point across, besides, I’m an asshole)
I received an IM through facebook from a reporter with USAToday. The following is the full exchange.
Investigative Reporter at The Tennessean and Correspondent at USA TODAY
(USATODAY) Kevin: I’m a reporter at The Tennessean. We are trying to confirm the shooter in the Antioch theater is a member of the homeless community and are looking for folks who might be familiar with his name. If you’re available to talk, I can be reached at 615-259-8092
(Me)i haven’t been in Nashville in 2 years. sorry.
of course the fact that he is homeless should have no bearing on the case – no other shooter has ever been homeless, but I’m sure that won’t matter to you and you’ll make an issue of him being homeless, making that your lead. just know that by doing so, you make life all the more difficult for every other law abiding homeless person – you’ll make it harder for homeless people to get work and housing because you’ll be playing on people’s fears instead of educating people about the realities of homelessness. oh, and stop referring to homeless people as a “community” There is no community of homeless people.
(USATODAY)Kevin: I was interested in reaching out to see if people knew him here and could tell us about him, not to highlight the fact he is homeless just for the sake of it. In any case like this we try and find people who know the suspect and can tell us something about him/her – no matter their socio economic status
(Me)yeah right – I’ve been dealing with homelessness for over 30 years. I know what the press does in these matters. You’d be better off talking to his family and to people who knew him outside of homelessness. LIke I said, there is no such thing as a homeless “community”. People who are homeless are forced together to live in near proximity to each other only because society has designed things that way, not because of choice. Even when homeless people interact with each other, the likelihood of them actually learning something about each other is slim to none. Out of self preservation, if nothing else, homeless people are not inclined to be honest about themselves to other homeless people. Even if you got someone to talk to you about him, most likely you’d be getting bogus information – of course that wouldn’t stop you from quoting your source, using that huge fact skipping loop hole … “mr so and so said that the suspect, blah blah blah…” I think we’re done here. Can’t wait to read what you put in print.
It should be noted the the news articles that resulted did not, in fact, highlight the suspects “potential” homelessness, though it was mentioned. His mother, who had not seen him in 2 years reported him missing and believed that he might be homeless. His homelessness was not proven.