Media Thrives on Audience Attention
The first recording of sensationalism with regards to journalism took place in about 1840 according to Merriam-Webster.com. And throughout the years, modern media outlets have been well known to camp out on topics and stories that draw audiences – crime, sex, and polarizing statements that run against the grain of the general societal value. These topics and others like them have a way of drawing and keeping attention. And while the original goal of news organizations was to inform the public of community-based current events with impartiality, today’s goal is to drive revenue through ad dollars. The thought here is, the longer you keep an individual on your page or glued to your channel, the more valuable your ad space is to advertisers and the higher your potential revenues.
So if the goal is higher revenue, why would the media choose to focus on other topics? Mind you there is nothing wrong per se with media coverage on these topics. After all if an audience grows weary, they go away – a natural process of a free enterprise system. But the result of a long attention span on any one issue shapes sociological mindset that may not necessarily reflect reality.
Take the perception of crime for instance. The typical adult will tell you that crime is up, that our communities are less safe then they were 40 years ago, and that they can’t possibly allow their children to play outside by themselves. In fact a Gallup Poll in 2007 noted that 7 in 10 people believe crime is on the rise. In short, there is a social conscience being shaped that leads the average individual to believe that our police agencies could be doing more, that our politicians are all crooked, and that our tax dollars are being to wasted.
Numbers Trump Perception
However perception is sometimes different from reality. According to the Unified Crime Report (UCR) composed by the FBI, violent crime is down 13.4% throughout the nation from 2001-2010.
And across the board, in other categories, statistics tell a similar story – violent crime, property crime, and numbers of persons arrested have all decreased over the same time frame.
Show Crime Statistics in a Palatable Format
So how can police departments inform a citizenry that crime is down, communities are safer, and mandated officials are by-in-large doing an admirable job?
One of the quickest and most influential ways to reach a population is through the very media that focuses on the crime to draw audiences in the first place. But in order to convince the media that crime is actually down, police departments need to prove it with facts and figures. Over the last five years crime maps and agency crime mapping has given rise to data visualization tools – that is, technology that makes it easier for the average individual to understand crime trends through graphs, charts, and heat maps. Many agencies have been taking crime reports housed in their RMS and placing incidents on a map – like our very own CrimeReports.com. This allows the general public to see for them themselves the crime that is taking place around them and allows them to make informed decisions about their response to crime, where they choose to live, work, and even vacation.
Another tool born from data visualization are products that focus on crime analytics. Agencies are using crime analysis to create new policing methodologies that help departments reduce crime even further, in some cases prevent it altogether, and finally, build reports that can in turn be used to show the public actual crime trends.
And of course there is social media. The latest Facebook numbers show a community of around 900 million users. And according to SocialBakers.com, nearly 50% of the US population has an account. When comparing that with Internet users, the number rises to 65% of all people on the net in the US are on the social network. Agencies have been using the platform for detective work for some time – Mashable recently noting that a poll of 1200 agencies where 85% use social media to solve crime and track down perpetrators. But what if you gave your community reason to follow you on Facebook or Twitter? An agency who utilized those tools — updating it daily in order to shape opinion through fact – now becomes its own news source and perception has no way of being distorted in the first place.
The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword
So if knowledge is power and the media uses it to attract an audience, why can’t you? In fact we’re interested to hear what you think. Sound off in the comments section below. How you’re utilizing technology and communications to impact community perception regarding public safety and agency effectiveness?