Visit The Scene Of The Crime

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The Providence Journal’s 7 to 7 News Blog just launched a new feature at some point within the last two hours.  In addition to printing the addresses of where newsworthy events took place, they have now also started providing maps.  That means that with just one click you can find out where three people got mugged in Silver Lake, where to find drugs and guns in Smith Hill, and where six teens in North Providence were caught having something called a “drinking party.”

Theoretically there could be some advantages to this.  Indicating what corner somebody was mugged on might lead future passers-by to be more alert, for instance, and people who don’t know where Mirabar is might want to know how to find the animal fundraiser that City Council president John Lombardi is hosting tomorrow night.

But let’s be realistic.  This could also lead to lots of crazy people doing crazy things.  Because, you know, there are a lot of crazy people out there, and many of them are just looking for ways to get even crazier.  Like, stalkery vigilante crap.  And, okay, maybe this might not bother me so much if the Journal didn’t publish the entire educational backgrounds of some victims while others, those that work for the ProJo, don’t have their addresses published at all.  And I also unerstand the importance of bulking up online content to provide things you might not get in the newspapers.  But providing Google Maps–most of which have street views showing what the house looks like–veers uncomfortably close to privacy invasion, particularly in cases where the home owners might have nothing to do with the news.

4 thoughts on “Visit The Scene Of The Crime”

  1. Something like this was done years ago with The New Haven Register, though in much more primitive ink on paper, and in the paper itself (as this technology was not available then). The main observation then was that when the original, city-based paper collapse (among many others) in the earlier economic crunch, it was bought up by a consortium of out-of-city investors (and in fact based outside the city). The focus of the Register became the ring of wealthier suburbs and their many advertisers (especially the Clinton outlet mall, physically and economically very cosy with the new owners). We took to calling it the Everywhere-BUT-New-Haven Register.

    But the ‘New Haven’ (more like Clinton) Register didn’t totally ignore New Haven. Remember, this was also the height of the white-powder wars on the East Coast, with franchise gangs in every city. In 1988, New Haven briefly topped the per-capita murder record on the East Coast, and the Clinton owners made sure their whitebread, suburban readership knew all about it. For every violent crime in New Haven, they printed a map, showing with GPS-level accuracy exactly where the nefarious deed was done, so that their readers would know not to cut down upper Orange Street on their way to downtown, but instead stick to the longer but safer route through eastern Fair Haven (which conveniently also cuts through Wooster Square, where so many of their restaurant advertisers are).

    New Haven is a very compact city, and things change dramatically from street to street, block to block. Prior to this new metaperspective, there was not a strong sense of ‘bad’ areas of the city. There were specific buildings and blocks, often on only one side of street, which were understood to be dodgy by those living in the immediate area, and often only until the police eventually showed up and escorted the less than genteel neighbours away. The white powder wars were violent, but they were specific only to given persons and groups, not any specific places. One of my favourite late-night hangouts hosted a gang hit, and sported some bulletholes in the brickwork for awhile, but it was not a dangerous place frequented by drug dealers, where you had any higher chance to get caught in the crossfire.

    Those of us who lived there understood that. Though I frequently heard gunshots, I never once feared for my life or safety anywhere there. The paper’s owners clearly did not understand this peculiarity, instead adhering to the traditional ’70s notion of ‘bad’ places, popularised in film and television of that era. The Register managed to turn previously unspecial but not unsafe areas into ‘bad’ neighbourhoods. The economic impact inevitably followed in due course. A few sketchy buildings in Fair Haven bloomed into a village-wide depression and diaspora within a decade. Probably not even realising it, the Register was slowly decimating the city that gave them their name.

    But what struck us most was that while they unfailingly provided maps of where drug crime went down, and always told us where the evildoers lived in the city, they never told us where the buyers lived. An investigation by the alternative weekly (the Advocate, similar to the Phoenix but less cunty) eventually turned up what all of us already knew: The money fueling New Haven drug crime came almost entirely from upper-class college students from out of state. And a map of where they lived would show countless nice, whitebread, suburban homesteads across the country, far from any spooky gunfire. Second on this list of buyers were the children of suburban readers of the Register, who had been helpfully informed by the paper on where to get drugs in New Haven.

    I don’t know what ProJo’s intent is with this mapping tool. I suspect it’s just gimmickry, a way to have fun and try to look sexy with cool online tools (that may be free to them in this case). But if they think they’re making the city better or safer, they’re almost certainly going to accomplish the opposite.

  2. I don’t know if people are familiar with the idea of a flashmob but the concept is that if ever there is the technology for instant transportation and fast news, people will inevitably teleport en masse to any spot where news is going on… for instance if a news outlet reports that there is a hostage situation in progress, everyone who hears it will teleport to where the hostage situation is taking place, inevitably making the situation totally unmanageable for authorities. This kind of mapping with news stories is just the beginning.

  3. You make some good points, but please . . . the Indigo Girls? How about ‘Maps’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Something. . . anything!

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