City’s Violent Night Highlights Print Media’s Decline

Over the past two years, the city of Milwaukee’s homicide rate has seen a significant decline.  One can argue the reasons: the shrinking 14 to 24 year-old demographic age group, the stellar performance of paramedics, the professionalism of the Froedtert Hospital ER staff, and/or Chief Edward Flynn’s data driven enforcement.  In 2010, however, perpetrators have apparently taken better aim, as the number of Milwaukee homicides has already exceeded all of 2009. 

Without a doubt, violence is on the uptick.  Early Friday morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that two people were killed and another shot during separate robberies on the city’s near north side. 

But even a better indication that Milwaukeeans, in general, have become accustom to the violence is the manner in which the dead tree version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered the investigations. 

 On Saturday morning, the newspaper simply printed a small inch-and-a-half article entitled “Two Killed, One Injured in Overnight Shootings,” which provided minimal detail about Milwaukee’s violent night.

Many moons ago, as a rookie officer, I vividly recall the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel vigorously exploring serious crimes.  Reporters frequently sought background information about the victims by interviewing neighbors and family members.  Frequently, the newspapers followed-up and reported about ongoing investigations and kept the community appraised.

Granted, the dramatic decline of print journalism is part of the problem. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a shell of its former self.  Budget cuts showed many experienced reporters the door and have resulted in a local page devoid of thorough coverage.  With advertising revenues in the doldrums, those in the newspaper industry are left clinging to their once busy printing presses by their ink-stained fingernails. 

Undoubtedly, some will argue that other forms of information—blogs and Internet news outlets—fill-in some of the remaining gaps.  Yet the inevitable collapse of the Fourth Estate, as we know it, will leave the next generation with a reduced ability to conduct research and understand the dynamics of Milwaukee’s past. Just as importantly, those who currently operate institutions—private and public—around town clearly realize there are fewer eyes watching. The county pension scandal, the Open Sky radio debacle, the $1.3 billion failure that is the Milwaukee Public Schools, and the ever growing list of sewage dumping, depict the ebb of the influence of print journalism in Milwaukee.

And the media is partly to blame, as well.  To boost sales, they sensationalize the news instead of simply conducting solid reporting, although one would think that adequate, in-depth coverage of Milwaukee’s violent night would cause more readers to pick-up a few more copies.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders. 

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010

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