Location, Location, Location
There was a triple murder in my neighborhood last week. This
is an extraordinary event wherever you live, and was shocking
here: the neighborhood variously known as the Fairfax District,
the Miracle Mile, Park LaBrea, Hancock Park, or sometimes
Mid City. In a place as enormous as LA, it's hard to remember
what's where, and maps don't always clear up these mysteries.
Since this is the May book, it appeared that every TV station
sent a helicopter to the scene of this story: I could see
them from my livingroom window. The TV stations told us the
name of the street, Masselin, which crosses Wilshire, a major
commercial avenue. One reporter we watched said he was reporting
from Mid City, (a neighborhood that's at least a mile from
the scene), another the Miracle Mile (which is more correct),
and another Park La Brea. And as much as I take issue with
sloppy reporting, I have become used to it-sadly.
But by the following morning the reporting was drifting further
from reality. As I drove to work, KFWB, one of our local all-news
outlets, reported that the murder was "near The Grove,"
the year-old and very successful shopping area that fronts
Third Street. Masselin does not even go through to Third Street,
and The Grove is not really nearby, but is actually 12 blocks
away from the murder scene, on the other side of Park LaBrea.
By the early afternoon, KFWB moved the murder scene to "across
the street from The Grove." Had someone simply rewritten
the story during the day and assumed that 'near' meant, pro-forma,
'across the street'?
One newswriter I worked with once said the news is like a
hungry beast who, if you're lucky, you get to corner for about
20 minutes a day so you can do your work. I've worked in newsrooms
that were as noisy and chaotic as kindergarten classes at
recess (just with unusually large kids). I can't imagine it's
any easier to write a news story under those conditions than
it is to teach the alphabet to five year-olds... So newswriters
have, as a group, my great sympathy, although I was not fond
of the writer who once asked me to fake a location on a map
I was making for him because he was too lazy to look it up.
(He made this sort of request only once.)
Viewers and listeners realize, I think, the challenges of
reporting in the vast, complicated reaches of a city like
Los Angeles, but they have the right expect us to be accurate.
Three people, including one child, were murdered; we should
at least take the time to dignify this awful event by first
checking, and then sticking to, the facts.