Media Good Shit’s In the P-I, Too
posted by March 27 at 9:00 AMon
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer comes in for a lot of criticism on this blog (Google “Shit’s in the P-I” if you were unaware). A brief bit of Thursday morning praise:
This story, by the P-I’s Carol Smith, is an absolutely fantastic piece of crime reporting. It deserves notice and—hope you’re listening, P-I bosses—reward.
It’s a gritty, detailed, compelling article that’s not really about the crime in question (in this case, the seemingly random and horrifically brutal murder of Shannon Harps on Jan. 1). Instead, it’s about the social problem that produced James A. Williams, the man now accused of killing Harps.
Read every word. This is what crime reporting should be (and rarely is). Seemingly random violence like the Harps murder is hardly ever, in fact, random. Smith knows—and attempts to show—this.
To explain James A. Williams, she begins where one must: The invention of Thorazine; the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963; a suspicious death in Camden, Arkansas. If you thought Harps’s murder was just some arbitrary occurrence with no rational response except increased fear and vigilance, you will come away from this story instead fearing the unintended consequences of sweeping government actions and the limitations of our legal and medical systems.
This is the proper direction in which to focus one’s fear; channeled this way fear can be transformed into productive action. As Smith shows, there are actually changes that could be made for the better that might prevent another person from beginning the new year the way James A. Williams began his. And these changes might well begin with voters coming to understand (through a story like Smith’s) that change needs to be made in the first place.
I tried to do a story somewhat like this a few years ago. It involved a crime that took place in Seattle in 2004 but the story began in the 1740s and connected to communism in the former Soviet Union, Greg Louganis, and a religious radio station in Sacramento. It also involved a lot of words and I don’t think achieved what Smith’s piece achieves. Which is impact, economy, clarity, and an implicit call to action.
The P-I, with its new, more tabloid-y presentation, has been getting a rep lately as the more salacious and less thoughtful daily. As a result, I’ve been reading it less. Smith provides a reason to read it more.