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Reporting crimes and courts- America’s Best Newspaper Writing

September 24, 2012

The disturbing scenes described in the crime and court reports illuminate the shameful aspects of humanity and the disenchantment with the justice system. As the chapter’s authors explain, such stories concern “breaches in the social contract, the ties that ensure civil order and freedom from fear” (73). While the stories presented in the chapter typically focus on one episode pertaining to a specific individual, these articles reveal larger social issues. Cathy Frye’s article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette demonstrates how one family’s tragedy serves as a cautionary tale for the majority of the American public. “Caught in the Web: Evil at the Door,” chronicles the abduction of Kacie Woody, a 13-year-old who freely conversed with individuals met online. Frye demonstrates the potential dangers that lurk behind the messages written on the computer screen. The reporter foreshadows the tragic ending, leaving the reader eager, yet fearful, to reach the final graph in the narrative. The interviews with the school’s guidance counselor indicate the woman’s regret as she wondered of herself “what else should I have asked” (79). Frye invites the readers to explore the Woody family dynamic and become acquainted with the young daughter’s bubbly personality. Furthermore, the clips of the instant message conversations continue to draw the reader into the scene in the house. The inclusion of the online conversation enhances the authenticity of the piece and shows the effectiveness of varying documentation.

Linnet Myer’s article titled “Humanity on Trial,” also braids together various sources to bring the reader into the Chicago Cook County Circuit County, Criminal Division building. The reporter provides snapshots of various trials, which gives the impression of the constant stream of crimes presented before the judge. The glimpse into the courtroom portrays the repulsion of the reporters, the mourning families and traumatizing effects of the crimes committed. But the flaws of the justice system are apparent throughout the story, running an unwavering current beneath the ephemeral presence of the criminals and the gruesome evidence presented. Nevertheless, Myer still develops empathy for both the families of both the victims and the individuals on trial, describing “the mothers of the murderers, and the mothers of the murdered too,” (88) “the innate worth of all human beings” (91) and the circumstances that already prepared those on trail for a guilty verdict.

Anne Hull also allows the reader to understand the inescapable fortune of those living in Ponce de Leon and College Hill Homes. In “Metal to Bone,” Hull fills the article with specific details and laces the characters with humanistic traits. While it is easy for the public to develop sympathy for officer Lisa Bishop, the hardworking mother, Hull effectively establishes empathy for Carl, the father of the supposed gunman. Hull depicts the father’s concern and compassion, but also notes he as an exceptional character amid “the land of tired women” (111). All three examples clearly call for increased education and reform, so that the readers may only know this world through the words on the page. Similarly, an article published in the New York Times, also details the acceptance of sex offenders on an Indian Reservation until the involvement of the federal authorities. Another article, “Rape in Hudson River Park is the latest in a string of jarring crimes,” also communicates the dangers plaguing the city. But while these four articles evoke fear and anguish, an article recently published in the Boston Globe, “Cannoli thief avoids getting creamed by justice system,” approaches the crime more with more humor.

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