This Week in Social Justice - Ep6: Should Newsrooms Defund Crime Coverage?

Posted by News Beat on December 24, 2020  •  5 min read
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The sixth episode of News Beat podcast's incredible 'This Week in Social Justice' features critically important insights from journalist Tauhid Chappell, News Voices: Philadelphia program manager at independent nonprofit media site Free Press, and executive board member of The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

Chappell co-authored a recent op-ed published by Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University titled "Defund The Crime Beat," which calls for the re-imagining of crime reporting through a more conscientious and truthful lens.

Co-written by Mike Rispoli, director of News Voices at Free Press, the piece makes a solid case for such a transformation, contending that traditional crime reporting perpetuates longstanding racial biases and ultimately, fails to serve the public. It also puts forth several actionable items that can be instituted immediately.

"Let’s be honest: Crime coverage is terrible," it begins. "It’s racist, classist, fear-based clickbait masking as journalism. It creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve. And because it so rarely meets the public’s needs, it’s almost never newsworthy, despite what Grizzled Gary in his coffee-stained shirt says from his perch at the copy desk.

"This should be the year where we finally abolish the crime beat," it continues. "Study after study shows how the media’s overemphasis on crime makes people feel less safe than they really are and negatively shapes public policy around the criminal–legal system. And study after study shows that it’s racist and inhumane."

Among the necessary changes:

"The whole process of how the criminal–legal system is covered needs to be reexamined — from who sets the news agenda, to who determines what’s newsworthy, to whose voices are centered in coverage and which relationships are prioritized," it states. "We need beats that focus on communities impacted by systemic marginalization and keep people safe and healthy. And we need beats that help people navigate the criminal-legal system, access important social services, and better understand their rights."

No strangers to covering crime of all shapes and sizes, the News Beat crew shared their own firsthand accounts of some of these issues. It was a fascinatingand importantconversation.

The show's 'Question of the Day' segment asked viewers whether they felt incarcerated people should be prioritized during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine rollout. The horrific effects of the virus on the prison population has been a constant subject of coverage for the podcast.

'This Week in Social Justice' livestreams every Friday at 1 p.m. ET via News Beat podcast's Facebook, YouTube and Twitch pages.

Among other issues we discussed:

  • Shocking conditions in Georgia prisons during COVID-19 pandemic - An investigation by Macon, Ga.-based television station WGXA uncovered horrific conditions inside several state prisons amid the raging pandemic. Among the accusations from those incarcerated, their families, and staff at multiple correctional facilities: lack of testing, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines violations, 'inhumane' conditions, and much more. 
  • China's further repression of the Muslim minority Uyghurs - A new report from the non-partisan think tank Center for Global Policy details the forced labor of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Tibetans to pick cotton in Xinjiang Province. Another report by nonprofit Human Rights Watch exposes the Chinese government's "mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and details the systemic and increasingly pervasive controls on daily life there."
  • COVID-19's unrelenting devastation on incarcerated populations - A new analysis by nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative titled 'Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread' takes a deep dive into the pandemic's horrors on people behind bars, the dire consequences of America's mass incarceration crisis, and failed policies that could have saved lives, also exposing its grossly under-reported toll on the communities and counties surrounding prisons.

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For more, watch 'This Week In Social Justice,' featuring journalist Tauhid Chappell.

Topics: civil liberties

News Beat is an award-winning social justice podcast melding independent, hard-hitting journalism with original music from independent artists.

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