By: Dorothy Giobbe Black community in New Haven, Conn., protests coverage in local paper; group seeks input into editorial process sp.
TWO MONTHS AFTER demonstrators protested the newspaper's coverage of minority affairs at the offices of the New Haven (Conn.) Register, a leader of the group said little has changed and more demonstrations are planned. At the Nov. 16 rally, 30 marchers dumped copies of the paper at the Register offices, later heaving them into a garbage truck to protest "unbalanced" and "uneven" coverage of New Haven's minority community, said the Rev. James Justice, an organizer of the event. Justice said his group has been unhappy with the Register's coverage of minorities for a long time and two recent incidents "fueled the fire" spur-ring the protest. The first was the killing of a deer at a New Haven-area animal shelter the same day that a black man was killed. Justice said the Register gave more coverage to the destroyed animal. "You have to ask yourself: Which one is becoming extinct?" he said. The second incident involved coverage of the first black deputy police chief in New Haven. When the appointment was announced, a prominent story on the front page of the Register featured a New Haven-area man who bore an extraordinary resemblance to actor Peter Falk, star of the television series Columbo. "The sensitivity level of the paper as it relates to the minority community seems to be very little," Justice said. "When there is some positive coverage of our community in the churches or when our students make the honor role, it's only given a small blurb." The paper, he added, "shouldn't just report about us when there's something negative going on and only give a small blurb when it's positive. We want the coverage to be balanced and the paper isn't doing that." David Butler, editor of the Register, said, "This newspaper has in the past and will continue to have minority columnists on the editorial page, an open forum page and regular meetings with people throughout the community. "We have worked hard to come up with positive news," Butler continued. "We do features on students and community groups that do positive things, and we watch very closely to make sure all the various ethnic groups are included in our coverage, but this is a regional newspaper. We cover 38 towns and we work to cover all of them fairly." But Justice sees a pattern in the Register's coverage of blacks. "There're a lot of positive things that are going on in the African-American community that are never reported," he said. "For the most part, the major front-page coverage of the minority community is only when there is black-on-black crime or crimes involving blacks." Crime reporting varies from paper to paper and has much to do with the dimensions of the area covered. Larger city dailies may run comprehensive accounts of violent crimes in a metro section if there is a particularly striking or unusual aspect of the crime. Smaller city newspapers, however, usually place accounts of violent crime on the front page or feature it prominently. "Our policy in general has been to run murders on the front page of the newspaper regardless of race or where they occur," Butler said. "If a murder occurred in a suburban community, we would play it on the front page as well. "I think the frustration that was exhibited by that protest is a broader frustration in that there are a lot of times we play crime stories on the front page. There is more crime in New Haven, and oftentimes, it involves African-Americans against other African-Americans." That may be true, Justice said, "but there's a lot of white-collar crime and other things in suburbia or wherever that are not being reported and given the same kind of coverage as black-on-black crime." Justice is adamant that his criticism not be taken as an "onslaught against the Register." While he said the protests will continue, "the positive thing is that we are willing to work with the paper to help bring about change." That hoped-for change would include a substantial role in determining which events are worthy of coverage, Justice said. "We want a part in the policy-making part of the paper, making the major decisions about what should and should not be covered and reported and what is and what isn't acceptable ? someone to tell them what is true and what isn't true and not to print stuff just on hearsay."