Who killed Kwanzaa Diggs?

  • In June 2008, Washington, D.C., Judge Zoe Bush committed Kwanzaa Diggs to juvenile detention after Diggs was convicted of robbery.
  • By April 24, 2009, Diggs was back on the streets. Specifically, he was in the 900 block of Barnaby Street, SE. He had been shot multiple times, and two other teenage victims were also shot.
  • Kwanzaa Diggs died at age 17.

Colbert I. King has an excellent column today in The Washington Post about the Diggs shooting, part of a series of columns King has done about the failures of the D.C. juvenile justice system.

This is not only a failure of the D.C. city government, but also a failure of the media to ask the kinds of questions, and tell the kinds of stories, that King is asking and telling.

The shooting death of Kwanzaa Diggs merited a mere two sentences in a Washington Post crime round-up column. Meanwhile, the Washington Post devoted front-page treatment to the colonoscopy of a panda at the Washington Zoo.

Dear God, what has happened to journalism in America? Is it any wonder that people hate “the media” so much? Here you’ve got the case of a 17-year-old shot dead, two others wounded, a crime that indicates a systemic failure of local government, and the local paper is too busy covering pandas at the zoo?

John Kerry can’t fix this problem. Some editors need to be fired, and some reporters need to be reminded that their job is to cover the freaking news. When somebody gets shot to death, that’s news.

Am I the only journalist on the planet who’s ever seen Teacher’s Pet? Clark Gable plays a tough, cynical newspaper editor, and Doris Day plays a journalism professor. The Gable character disdains the professor’s lofty pretensions about the “civic duty” of a newspaper. The turning point of the story is where Gable takes a stabbing death and turns it into a really great human-interest story.

Murder is news. Rape, robbery and drug busts are also news. And guess what? Crime coverage, if done right, sells papers. If the Washington Post can’t be bothered to cover a shooting that leaves one teenager dead and two others wounded, what the hell is the point of publishing a newspaper?

Good cops-and-courts reporting used to be a staple of American journalism. Was such coverage sometimes lurid and sensationalist? Sure. But it sells newspapers. The problem is that too many people in our newsrooms for the past several decades have failed to understand that they’re in a business, the object of which is to sell the product and make a profit.

The pretentious Doris Day professor types have triumphed over the cynical Clark Gable types. We’ve got plenty of pundits to lecture us about “fine-grained local coverage,” but good luck getting a Harvard magna cum laude to go out and cover the freaking news.

The newspaper industry is dying, and Kwanzaa Diggs is still dead.

UPDATE: The Associated Press can’t be bothered with Kwanzaa Diggs and the collapse of the juvenile justice system in our nation’s capital. But the five-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts? 2,700 words!

UPDATE II: Moe Lane at Red State:

Honestly, I think that everybody involved would be happier if we just established once and for all that the Watergate scandal was a disaster for the newspaper industry; it encouraged an entire generation of reporters to go out there and try to change American society, instead of simply documenting it.

Nail on the head, Moe. All The President’s Men solidified this idea of journalism that “makes a difference” in the heads of a generation of journalists. It not only encouraged a lot of what is called “Pulitzer bait” — the five-part series — but it generally attracted to the business a lot of liberal do-gooders who thought of themselves as superior to their readers.

Last year, there was a certain news story that caused Ace of Spades to erupt in fury: “Stop telling me what to think!” (I wish I could find that post, because it was good.) Nobody wants to do the straight-ahead Joe Friday “just-the-facts-ma’am” news story, because there is no prestige in that kind of basic reporting.

It is no surprise, really, that the great scandals of American journalism — Stephen Glass in 1998 and Jayson Blair in 2003 — occurred about 30 years after Watergate, by which time the starry-eyed liberal do-gooders who entered the business in the 1970s had become editors and journalism professors.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Ed Driscoll readers!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: