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Poor Journalism Promotes Paterson Crime

As part of the "Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project," a National Endowment for the Humanities grant set out to offer another perspective on Paterson under the tutelage of Dr. Martha Brozyna, I explored the history of journalism in Paterson.

There are many factors to the uproar of crime, especially in Paterson, NJ; what if one were question that the news sources were at fault to the unfortunate increase? Journalism was at a all time high in the early 1900s with press houses such as Paterson Daily Press, Paterson Morning Call, Paterson Evening and Paterson Daily Guardian.

These newspapers would be responsible for providing useful news to the public to keep them informed. As journalists, it is imperative that the articles written are told from all perspectives and fairly.

Although journalism was at a all time high in the 1900s, it’s ethics was not. After dissecting articles within a 78 year time frame starting from the late 1800s to the 1960s, it is clear that journalist lacked compassion, sympathy, unbiased views and overall care for safety. When these elements lack, an opportunity to commit crime presents itself.

In the Paterson Daily Guardian, an article titled “The Circus And The Arabs” was published on February 9, 1867 and included racial identifying slurs when describing a fight between two circus workers. For example, the journalist added questions like “did the white man smell the negro’s smeller?” after explaining that a white man bit off the tip of a negro worker’s nose during their squabble. Many would override this example by identifying the time period as a time of ignorance but it still adds an insensitive humor to the situation and decreases the reality of violence taking place.

In the Paterson Daily Press, an article titled, “Four Eastside Homes Robbed” was published on March, 18, 1922 and describes the incident of a group of serial thiefs missing valuable jewelry from a home. At this time witnesses were identified with their addresses attached. The article would go on to say, “several pieces of other valuable jewelry were left untouched.” What is alarming about this sentence is that it allows the readers (including the thiefs) know there is valuable jewelry in the home of the victim. With just one sentence, the journalist has opened the victim to danger.

Incidents only get worse as time progresses. For example, the Paterson Evening published an article titled, “Held for Attack on 13-Year-Old Girl” on July, 15, 1922. The subtitle would read “Joseph McCormack, Age 49, Claims He was Under The Influence of Drink” These titles immediately gave an biased outlook by defending the accused offender before any details are described.

Throughout the article, the journalist explained how the perspective offender did not have control of his actions. The 13-year-old girl who was attacked was not mentioned once. The article also included another perspective victim by saying, “he had attempted to assault thirty year old Anna McCarthy, of 149 Atlantic Street.”

It is extremely dangerous to disclose the personal information of victims who are trying to make claims on the harm done against them. Including Ms. McCarthy’s address could have put her in extreme danger by the man who she claimed harmed her.

The articles published in 1922 and further on have no excuse for their poor judgement in journalism as the code of ethics was created in 1909.

The SPJ (Society of Professional Journalist) founded and created the code of ethics in 1909 to ensure journalist were ethical and would write for the greater good of the public. The SPJ preamble would read, “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.

Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”

The SPJ breaks down the code of ethics into four categories:

(1) Seek Truth and Report It (2) Minimize Harm (3) Act Independently (4) Be Accountable and Transparent.

These codes have provided journalists a clear understanding of what is expected and how important the job of a journalist is.

After 60 years of the code of ethics being created, journalism in Paterson began to be implemented but still had to be tweaked. Paterson Morning Call published the article “Suit Accuses Police of Violation” in 1967 which includes insensitive racial identification but mostly asks witnesses from the area about the event. It may not seem like a huge deal to ask witnesses near the location of the event but it goes against the code that says, “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” The article discusses an issue where policemen are accused of throwing tear gas into the windows’ of blacks and Hispanics. The article then states that witnesses around the area were asked about what happened and if it were true. Witnesses who live or work in the area may not disclose a lot of information about a police officer’s misconduct out of fear of being harmed themselves.

It is understandable that witnesses nearby would be helpful in writing the article but because this situation is undergoing trial it is best fit to remain slightly distant from situation still under investigation.

All of these articles have potential to cause further violence in the community. One of the most important categories of the code of ethics is minimize harm. This category says journalist should, “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

The article aforementioned titled, “Four Eastside Homes Robbed” is a perfect example of not balancing the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. The public did not need to know that there was left over valuables in the home nor does the address of the victim need to be included.

Second code under the category minimize harm says, “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.”

Taking the article “Held for Attack on 13-Year-Old Girl” into consideration it is clear that no compassion was shown to the young teen in this situation and was completely undermined.

The biggest code being broken during the early 1900s was the failure to expose unethical conduct in journalism, including with their organizations. (SPJ, Para 4)

No newspaper is expected to be perfect but they must be accountable and transparent.

Being able to apologize, take criticism builds trust and strength for the paper.

With codes being broken, careless journalism taking place, Paterson could have potentially experienced more crime than it had before.

Today, journalism in Paterson has evolved with time and uses proper codes of ethics to the best of abilities. The true is issue now is unprofessional journalists taking it upon themselves to disclose information and opinions online creating violent uproars and civil conflicts.

Once an individual who posts multiple stories online and has followers/friends on social media they become a mediocre journalist. These journalists often use their platforms to post many events that pose conflicts of interest.

For example, a high school student who has many followers posts a video of two girls fighting in front of her home without caution. The very next day, a group of girls identified the girl who posted the video and assaulted her as a group.

There are countless ways that poor journalism anywhere can cause violence and crime. The best way to avoid this is to avoid poor journalism, be ethical and think of those will be affected by what is being written.

Works Cited

Dolor, L.I. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy ]nibh. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. Print.

Doe, R. John. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh, 1998. Print.

“Four Eastside Homes Robbed.” Paterson Daily Press, 1922.

“Held for Attack on 13-Year-Old Girl.” Paterson Evening, 1922.

“SPJ Code of Ethics - Society of Professional Journalists.” Society of Professional Journalists - Improving and Protecting Journalism since 1909,

“Suit Accuses Police of Violation” Paterson Morning Call, 1967.

“The Circus And The Arabs” Paterson Daily Guardian, 1867.

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