Public safety has long been a key coverage area for news outlets, one that includes reporting on crime and policing, public health crises, environmental and natural disasters, fires and protests.
Berkeleyside strives to keep the Berkeley community informed in a timely and factual manner of any public safety incident, including serious crimes and natural disasters, that may impact people’s safety and affect their daily lives.
In recent years, however, like many newsrooms nationwide, Berkeleyside has been reexamining how we report on public safety, particularly crime and policing.
As a news organization, we believe it’s important to report on public safety in a way that is responsible and keeps readers informed, but is not harmful to the community. Like many other news outlets, we want to avoid the “if it bleeds it leads” approach in favor of one focused on explanatory and accountability reporting.
We start by evaluating whether a story about a crime is worthy of coverage, including whether it is in the public interest to report on it. Along with news value, we take into account our resources, and whether the story is likely to be covered by other media outlets.
Because we can’t follow most crimes beyond an initial arrest, we will not report on many of those minor crimes. For the same reason, we will not name suspects in most cases we do report. That’s because charges may later be dropped or reduced, or a suspect might be acquitted. A story published online can make it difficult for individuals named in such cases to find work or get on with their lives.
Read more about how the media industry is changing its approach to crime reporting in this article by Poynter, a world-recognized thought-leader on journalism
In addition, while police departments may arrest someone for a specific reason and recommend charges, it is the district attorney’s office that charges an individual when there is sufficient evidence to do so. We may publish the names of individuals once the district attorney’s office has charged the person with a major crime.
For the same reason, Berkeleyside will not include mugshots in stories without a compelling reason. That might include serious cases such as homicides, kidnappings, and sexual assaults, and when there is a clear and immediate danger to the public, such as an active shooter. It is not just newsrooms that are revising their thinking about publishing mugshots. State lawmakers similarly have recognized the prejudicial nature of mugshots, ordering law enforcement agencies not to broadcast them via social media in cases of non-violent crimes.
We will not ignore danger to the community, if and when it is there, but we believe we will best serve our community by centering our coverage on trends and potential solutions to crime and violence and holding those in power, including the police, accountable.
If you have questions on any aspect of Berkeleyside’s approach to public safety reporting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.