At 10 p.m., computer-generated graphics roll across your
television screen to pulsing music. They give way to the anchor's
face and the inevitable opening words: "Good evening."
But usually, it isn't a good evening. It's another evening of
If you were watching KMOV (Channel 4) on July 14, the first
story on your screen detailed the arrest of a child-molesting
suspect in Tower Grove Park.
If you pushed your remote channel-changer to KSDK (Channel 5),
you saw a reporter broadcasting live from outside the hospital
treating a pipe-bomb victim.
Click to KTVI (Channel 2): You're back in Tower Grove Park with
the child-molester case . . .
Click to Channel 5: A serial rapist terrorizes the Shaw
neighborhood area . . .
Click to Channel 4: Police in St. Charles are looking into an
infant's death at a motel . . .
Click to Channel 2: The Shaw rapist again, which gives way to
the discovery of a car used in the serial murders of homosexuals .
And so it goes on the 10 o'clock news, at least on many
evenings. In the week of July 10-16, crime or violence accounted
for 24 percent of the 14-plus minutes each station devotes to
general news on the 10 p.m. news.
Channel 2 anchor Don Marsh says part of television's emphasis
on crime stems from the simple fact that violent crime is up, at
least in St. Louis.
But he adds, "It probably seems as if there's more crime than
there really is because of the heavy amount of coverage."
Marsh once reported to Ian MacBryde, formerly news director at
Channel 2 and now an independent producer here.
MacBryde says, "Crime gets a disproportionate amount of a
newsroom's time, resources and attention, to the exclusion of news
that truly affects everyone - health, education, local government
and so on. As a result, the public is not well-served."
Channel 2's news director Bill Berra takes tart exception to
that idea. He says, "I think 267 people killed in St. Louis last
year is an epidemic, an atrocity."
If crime seems to dominate the news here, we weren't alone.
- Network crime coverage has jumped, too. The Washington-based
Center for Media and Public Affairs reports that last year, the
network news shows doubled their coverage of crime - and tripled
their coverage of murder - from the year before.
- In Miami, several hotels have erased that city's Fox
affiliate, WSVN, from their cable systems. The reason: WSVN
programs eight hours of news a day, heavily spiced with blood and
gore. The hotels say WSVN is scaring their guests.
- Last winter, the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs paid for a
10-week study of local television news. The major finding:
Chicago's three network affiliates give crime 60 percent of their
`You Can't Be Sensational'
The news directors of the three stations studied here say the
24 percent figure for crime coverage in St. Louis seems accurate,
"Here, you have a more conservative market," says Tim Larson,
the news director at top-ranked Channel 5.
"You can't be sensational in St. Louis," Larson says. "You have
to relate your newscast to your audience. If you're very
sensational, racy and crime-laden, your newscast won't be watched
as much here."
At Channel 2, Berra notes that many newscasts open with a
non-crime story. "It depends what's going on," he says. "If a major
crime happens, it'll be right up there. If something bigger
happens, maybe not."
Channel 4's news director, Steve Hammel, says: "It's not in
anyone's interest to have more than a quarter of the news about
crime. Crime isn't the only thing going on in our area. Going heavy
on it would be a disservice."
At any rate, Hammel notes a key difference in the way the
public perceives crime coverage on television and crime coverage in
"With a newspaper, people have the choice of reading the front
page or going straight to the sports section. …