Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's all in the HEAD-line

Someone will die today. Somebody else will be married, and inside the
police station, where the desk sergeant runs down the call log of all
what has gone on during the previous 24 hours, all the drama of the city
will be boiled down into short, concise sentences.

There was an attempted burglary, and a mistakenly dialed 911 call. There
were complaints of loud music, an attempted suicide, and a couple on
Phila Street who got into a domestic squabble.

There were a number of calls to check out a variety of suspicious
people, and there was one 23-year-old man who came up from Tennessee to
drive his car the wrong way up Caroline Street at 1 a.m. He clutched his
steering wheel in one hand, a drink in the other and no driver’s license
to speak of.

There was also some discussion about a new hand-held gizmo that scans
license plates and alerts officers if the vehicle wearing the plates is
in violation of any number of offenses. It is a new invention of the
electronic age.

The stationhouse sits on the street level of the big building on
Broadway that was built in 1871. One flight up is the office of the
mayor, where the walls are fixed with photographs of previous city
mayors and framed images of the city’s historic past: The Floral Fete
Parade of 1897, a street scene on Broadway in 1900, and the Drink Hall
in 1941, among them.

Another vault up the vintage wood stairs leads to the city court. Here,
the daily docket hangs on a brown clipboard that rests on a hook outside
the courthouse. Today’s agenda includes a case of someone accused of
Grand Larceny and another in possession of Marihuana; There is a case of
someone accused of torturing animals and another allegedly driving under
the influence of alcohol. What is posted in this building today, will be
the news of tomorrow. For people in the business of news, the punch has
always been in the headlines. And for better or for worse, it shows no
sign of changing anytime soon.

A non-profit media research and policy organization called Mediascope
recently issued a report in which their research found that stories of
crime and violence increase broadcast newscast ratings. Newspapers
haven’t been too shy in that regard, either. Some, like Rupert Murdoch’s
NY Post are legendary. “Headless Body in Topless Bar” read one in the
early 1980s. “Kiss Your Asteroid Goodbye,” warned another when an
asteroid zipped uncomfortably close by the planet. Not to be outdone, NY
Post competitor The Daily News delivered its share of screaming
headlines. “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” read one when then-President
Gerald Ford said he would veto any bill to help bail out New York City
in 1975. “Somoza Slain by Bazooka” read another, after the former
Nicaraguan dictator was killed when his limousine was obliterated by a
bazooka rocket in Paraguay.

There is a relatively new feature on this newspaper’s Web site that
counts the top read stories of the past month. And in the brief time of
its operation it is interesting to note that crimes, deaths and
accidents are consistently among the highest ranking hits by the public.
Sure there are other things that go on in the city — from local
government issues and music concerts, to school news, personal
achievements and historical resources — and these receive their share of
readers as well. You just have to go way down the popularity list to see
them, there buried beneath the blood is where you will find them.

By Thomas Dimopoulos