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Covering Kids: Children's Advocacy Group Head Says Many Newspapers Are Devoting Too Much Space to Stories about Youth Violence

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Covering Kids: Children's Advocacy Group Head Says Many Newspapers Are Devoting Too Much Space to Stories about Youth Violence

Article excerpt

THE HEAD OF a children's advocacy group believes many newspapers are devoting too much space to stories about youth violence.

Children Now president and founder James Steyer said his Oakland, Calif.-based organization conducted research earlier this year, which revealed that 40% of stories about kids focus on them as perpetrators or victims of crimes.

By comparison, 4% of the stories were about the economic needs of children and 2% were about children's health care policy.

"When I talk about these figures with members of the press, the most common response I get is, 'We're just reporting reality,'" Steyer told attendees at the recent American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors convention in Seattle. "But is 40% of what we need to know about kids in our society that they are often the victims or perpetrators of crimes? Probably not.

"Let me give you a few figures that may be revealing. In 1991, 960,000 children were victims of violent crimes, while 8.3 million children were without any form of health insurance."

By putting so much emphasis on youth violence, Steyer said, newspapers are depressing and scaring kids and adults alike -- and giving youngsters fewer positive role models.

"Youngsters surveyed said they want more stories about children doing good things," he stated.

Steyer acknowledged that youth violence is a major story that should be covered, but he said it should be covered differently. To this end, he offered several suggestions:

* Talk to kids often, consulting them about your coverage as well as including them in your stories.

* Always put stories about kids and crime and violence in context. What is the overall rate for that kind of crime? Is it going up or down or staying relatively steady?

* Get behind the robbery or drive-by shooting. Explore the complexities and the causes.

* Relate your stories to public policy as often as you can. Draw the link to pending legislation or budget decisions on both prevention and punishment.

* Talk about solutions and the obstacles to those solutions.

* Don't forget about all the other issues that affect children's lives. …

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