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Murder & Mayhem

For the last few years, I’ve been getting the bulk of my world news from a number of New York Times RSS feeds. I’m sure you don’t need me to extoll the publication’s manifold virtues. However, as a Philadelphia resident, one thing the New York Times can’t give me is detailed local news. As my schedule’s density has increased, my ability to absorb the local goings-on through my usual channels (free weeklies and sheer osmosis) has decreased, so the time came to choose an RSS source for local news. Though known to be flawed, the Philadelphia Inquirer is ostensibly our city’s flagship newspaper. With a 178-year legacy and broader coverage than any other Philly paper I know of, it seemed like my best bet as a local supplement to the New York Times.

I can’t deny that the Inquirer has done a reasonably good job of keeping me abreast of local happenings, but I’m still often reminded of how spoiled I’ve become by the New York Times’ quality. Yesterday, my RSS reader summed up the issue more perfectly than I ever could:

NetNewsWire screen capture featuring a article title “MURDER & MAYHEM,” followed by “(No description)”.

The Inquirer has a bloodlust, and it lives in a city that is more than happy to satisfy that bloodlust.

You see, we have a bit of a homicide problem; there were 406 of them last year. How do I know that? I performed a Google search for philadelphia homicides 2006, and the first result was the Inquirer’s interactive map of Philadelphia Homicides in 2006. Speckled with 406 little red dots, it lets me filter last year’s homicides by age, race, sex, time, or weapon. If I can’t be bothered to do that, I can skip ahead to Google’s third search result, where the Inquirer provides the same data in a more straightforward and accessible table.

Clearly this is interesting and valuable information. Our citizens’ fatal conflicts—especially when viewed in bulk—shine a pretty bright light on the city’s broader social, economic, and political problems. So I don’t decry the Inquirer’s collation and publication of this information. My issue is the apparent glee with which it is delivered. Take a look at some recent headlines:

There’s a giddy editorial fervor that seems to accompany each homicidal notch on Philadelphia’s bedpost. One is made to wonder if he is reading a newspaper or watching a PBS pledge drive. And if PBS isn’t your thing, the Inky is more than happy to provide you with network-style excitement:

  • Another family is left to mourn
  • An appointment for murder
  • A witness who never got to testify
  • “I just want to know where my son is”
  • “I pulled out the knife … stabbed her”
  • Gun violence explodes into once-safe areas

The drama doesn’t end with the headlines, either, exemplified here by the intro to this post’s titular article:

The cold-hearted killer beat the woman to death, but didn’t stop humiliating her, police said.

After she was dead, he placed a plastic bag and red pillowcase over her head, then tied a wool scarf around her neck, police said.

Investigators believe he drove the body to a vacant, wooded area in Kensington and dumped it. The unidentified woman was the city’s 101st homicide victim of the year.

But swiftly, by yesterday afternoon, the ghastly tally had reached 104 after a 45-year-old man was found shot to death in a house in Southwest Philadelphia.

So much for “Just the facts, ma’am.”

I suppose if I was the sort of person who really digs Bruckheimer blockbusters and Nickelback, I might appreciate this sort of journalistic embellishment, but I’m not and I don’t. Is there some obvious alternative I’m missing, or do I have to continue filtering this shit?