Our View: Page One crime

June 23, 2011 11:48:00 AM



Recently, the newspaper has received criticism for prominently featuring violent crime stories, particularly a story about a Columbus man who attacked another with a machete. 


A reader suggested we run such stories on inside pages rather than the front page. 


As a newspaper, it''s our responsibility to report the news, good and bad. And in an area like ours, where crimes of this nature are rare, a man wielding a machete is front-page news. 


Just this week, an investigative TV show sought Dispatch file stories for a piece on the 1990s killings of senior citizens in Lowndes County. The local newspaper is the go-to source for such things, the record keeper of the daily life in the communities it covers. 


Some have accused us of only being interested in selling more papers. 


We are guilty of being a business. Crime stories are some of the most-read articles on the website, and they do tend to send papers flying off the racks. 


But we are more than a business. We are an integral part of the community; we want to paint a fair picture, one that will help us make this a better place, not merely increase sales. This, again, takes reporting on the good and the bad. 


Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John has said that it is a positive thing for these types of crimes to be on the front page of the local newspaper. It means the community still cares.  


When we start to bury them on the inside of the paper, it means one of two things: Either we are dubbing ourselves the gatekeepers, trying to hold back reality in an effort to paint a prettier picture, or there is so much murder and mayhem, it no longer warrants front-page play. Both scenarios are frightening. 


If you flip through weeks of Dispatch publications, you will find there is more good news on the front page than bad. Recent editions featured heartfelt stories about Boy Scouts, a community''s outpouring of appreciation for a fallen soldier and the naming of a stretch of road for a longtime sports announcer at Mississippi State University - glimmers of light that illuminate the Golden Triangle.  


Occasionally, yes, there is a violent crime, and if severe or strange enough, it ends up on Page One. To do less would be irresponsible of us and a disservice to the public. 


Long after the TV sound bites are silenced and the rumor mills die down, a newspaper''s gripping front-page photo will remain, as will the printed words. 


The numerous comments and e-mails on this topic alone serve as a testament to the power of print. It''s a responsibility we don''t take lightly.