Why the Sun Herald is changing how it covers crime

The Sun Herald is making changes to the way it covers crime, and, as your editor, I wanted to explain to readers the thinking behind these moves.

We know crime stories are among the most popular content we can give our readers on our website and on social media. We have tools that allow us to see what stories readers are clicking on, and a high-profile crime story almost always shoots right to the top. And, for us, more clicks leads to more advertising revenue and more exposure for the Sun Herald.

But what is good for us may not be what is good for South Mississippi. We need to re-evaluate.

I speak to a lot of civic groups and one of the complaints I get often is the Sun Herald has too many crime stories and not enough of other types of news. At times, this is spot on.

What happens on a given day is that many of our reporters may be working on a weekend or high-impact story that takes time to complete, and the crime reporter is the only one that day contributing daily stories. When that happens, our news report does skew toward crime.

Business and community leaders tell me that all that crime coverage creates a false impression of what we are as South Mississippians. Every community has crime, they note, but why does ours get so much coverage?

So, I’ve directed our reporters to ask themselves a few questions before they report a crime story.

For instance, is there an imminent public-safety concern? Is the crime so serious the community needs to know about it? Is the crime part of a trend that warrants frequent updates? So, if a dangerous inmate escapes from the Harrison County jail and there’s a manhunt on, we would still cover that story. But we will run a lot fewer stories about shoplifters at Walmart and people who steal boats.

A related note: We’ve also discontinued our daily “mugshot” gallery on sunherald.com.

For years, we posted the pictures of people charged with felony crimes, and, again, it was a popular part of our website. But the mugshot stayed a part of people’s lives forever, whether they were convicted or not. Plenty of people have contacted us over the years to say they were cleared of the crime but that mugshot has prevented them from getting jobs. It turns up in background searches.

And the mugshot gallery did not really meet our core mission of our news organization, to inform and serve the people of South Mississippi with news that affects their lives.

I’ll be writing more columns in the future about additional changes at the Sun Herald. In the meantime, if you want to give me feedback on our crime policy changes, email me at bmkaplan@sunherald.com.

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