Public Editor

Is Jodi Arias really news in KC?

Updated: 2013-05-09T20:13:29Z

“I’ve got to admit I was expecting worse,” started a caller this morning. “I was really thinking I was going to get my Star out of the bag and see this stupid, nothing story about Jodi Arias getting convicted for murder on the front page.

“At least your editors had some judgment and put it (on Page A2). Can you possibly explain to me why anyone is getting so up in arms about this thing?”

I couldn’t be more perplexed about that question myself.

Confession: I watch almost zero national cable TV news on my own time. But the TVs at my gym are often trained to CNN, Fox News Channel or MSNBC in some combination while I’m there, and various screens around The Star’s newsroom keep them all going throughout the day. So I’m familiar enough with their general programming patterns.

In general terms, regional news sources such as The Star tend to focus on the news that happens close to home. And while many readers were fascinated with a recent story that looked into whether accused double-murderer Derek Richardson may have claimed more victims before he committed suicide, I also heard multiple voices saying The Star shouldn’t have devoted so many resources and real estate to a story that ultimately had little import to the public at large, even if it happened right here.

“Just a plain gross National Enquirer-type article, not needed on any front page,” wrote one emailer.

But a look through the Nexis news database tells me the story of Richardson generated virtually no coverage outside the Kansas City area. I’d say that’s probably in proportion to the crimes, which were horrific, but were sadly not too unusual and affected mercifully few people.

To my mind, a few factors do bump some local crime stories to the national level. A good example is the Cleveland man accused of imprisoning three women for a decade. Here again, the number of people directly affected is relatively small. But the extremely unusual and brutal nature of the alleged crimes elevates it beyond local interest. I’d also argue that the multiple murder charges against Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell merited more national attention than the story is receiving in mainstream sources. One can of course argue with those calls, too.

So what is it about Jodi Arias? Or the acquitted Casey Anthony? Or Amanda Knox?

My personal supposition is that none of these women fits the stereotype of the kind of person people might expect to be charged with murder, and especially not in such gruesome and brutal incidents.

I generally side with those readers who would prefer The Star to restrain from the impulse to “compete” with the TV and Internet tabloid culture that elevates these titillating but ultimately unimportant stories to attention higher than they deserve.

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