Crime is not on the rise in the Schenectady. That’s a statistical fact.
With the rash of recent burglaries and robberies throughout the city, and even a fatal shooting, one might think otherwise.
But numbers don’t lie, and the fact remains that both violent and property crimes in Schenectady are continuing at an annual downward trend. They are even projected to be at five-year lows by the end of 2014. [Gazette, November 16, 2014]
For the most part, these sorts of crimes are only brought to the public’s attention by way of the media.
Local newspapers and news stations have an obligation to inform readers and viewers about important things going on, whether they're positive or negative. And there were a slew of crimes highlighted in The Daily Gazette these past couple of weeks.
As a regular reader, even I became somewhat concerned with all that was going on, but then I remembered the law of averages and my worries were comfortably put to rest.
Just because there is a spike in crime on a certain day or in a given week does not mean it will continue. That’s not how trends work.
There certainly are trends when it comes to crime. For instance, crime is usually up around the holidays, but overall it tends to be lower throughout the cold and wintery months. These are more obvious trends than anything else.
But one thing I couldn’t initially figure out was why certain stories made the front page of the local section and others were simply relegated to the police blotter. At first, I assumed it was based on the severity of the crime. But I always read the police blotter and see car theft, burglary and aggravated assault entries.
So why does a 14-year-old accused of stealing two cars and attempted burglary receive a front page story in the local section, while a 26-year old charged with assault, obstruction of breathing and criminal mischief is only mentioned in the blotter?
One contributing factor could be that the two incidents occurred nearly a month apart. The newspaper appears to receive police blotter entries, at least from the Schenectady Police Department, about a month after the accused have been charged. By then, it’s old news, especially when it comes to smaller crimes.
Or the editor might simply feel that one story would be more interesting to readers than another, and therefore give it more prominent play.
It’s all about timing, chance, and the particular qualities of the story itself. And therein lie the reasons why the public can be deceived into believing crime is up when it is down.
Gazette reporters cannot control what crimes happen on what days, and they can only cover so many stories, as their window of time is usually very short.
Not to mention, you also have to factor in the amount of reporters working and the amount of space available in the newspaper on a given day.
The Gazette cannot reasonably be expected to cover all the crime that occurs in Schenectady. They have to prioritize, which is what countless other newspapers and news stations also do.
Matter of fact, I think The Gazette has quite the watchful eye over the entire city.
They always seem to be on top of important news stories and residents would certainly be woefully uninformed without them around.
In this day and age, owning and operating a newspaper is no longer as revered as it used to be.
While the media and news industry is growing annually, newsprint is dwindling. This is especially true of smaller and more local papers.
Thankfully, The Gazette has continued to move forward, even through tough times.
That hasn’t made their job any easier, though.
The newspaper, like so many others, is forced to play a near-impossible game when it comes to reporting the news.
They must carefully balance positive and negative stories.
How their readers view the tone of the paper certainly impacts circulation numbers.
But making sure the news is well balanced isn’t the only thing The Gazette must do. Story placement is just as vital.
There are front page stories with and without illustrations, news briefs, back page anecdotes, and other second and third tier articles scattered throughout the middle.
If the newspaper puts too much negativity on the front page of the local section, readers might get turned off, or even alarmed, as we have seen in recent weeks
Yet, if they print too much happy-go-lucky news, readers might wonder where the real stories are and question the newspaper’s commitment to proving hard local news.
It’s a fickle business, but also a rewarding one for the public, whether they acknowledge it or not.
So it is no wonder that when readers see more featured stories related to crime over a period of time, especially violent ones, they might jump to the conclusion that crime is up in Schenectady.
Fortunately, we have government agencies that keep tallies of such things to show how crime is actually trending.
Now whether or not we believe the numbers coming from the government — that’s an entirely different story to write about and a path filled with many trials and tribulations.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.