NO LAUGHING MATTER: Does crime really pay?
Some years ago I asked Mr Harold Hoyte, when he was top man at THE NATION newspaper, if he could put in a “good news page”. He told me that good news does not sell. I interpreted that to mean that good news would not pay him or his staff but that bad news, such as crime, would.
I asked him to try it for three months. I also asked him to identify the page by labelling it “GOOD NEWS PAGE”. He said he would think about it.
I believe that he did but I don’t remember seeing the page. I wanted people to read good news for a change. I thought that it would create a more positive psyche.
Also, I was, and still am, concerned about placing “crime” on the front page of the newspaper. I believe that front page stories are more impactful than those on other pages and therefore if any newspaper were to continuously promote crime on its front page, the newspaper would, through expectation, create a reputation for itself. And if these front page stories about criminal activity were consistently about the same country, it would also give that country a bad reputation.
Such is the power of news. And with the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” you can imagine the amplification of the impact. To put it bluntly, news carriers – whether they be radio, newspapers or television – can and do fashion your thinking of a country and its people.
I recently did an experiment in which I asked a few people what was the first thing that came into their heads when I said “Middle East”. They all answered “War”. None of them was aware that Israel has a vibrant night life with quite a few nightclubs, especially in Tel Aviv.
I did the same thing with Hawaii. The answers varied but were all positive. Pretty girls, golf, greenery. Not a word about crime. Yet in 2008, Hawaii recorded 49 516 crimes, including 25 murders.
We all hear of the crime in Jamaica. In fact, that is all we seem to hear about Jamaica. I have been to Jamaica several times because I have family there and have visited almost every parish extensively. I have never seen or experienced any of this reported crime. All I see is a beautiful country with a pronounced culture and a confident people.
Yet every time I visit that country, there is great apprehension. This is due to the constant bombardment of criminal news. If I did not have family there, these unreassuring thoughts might have deterred me.
Years ago when I heard the name Trinidad, I used to instantly think “party, fun-loving people, kaiso, Panorama, Carnival”. Trinidad was my second home. Now when I hear the name Trinidad, the first thought that comes into my head is murder and kidnapping.
Do you think that I believe that all those things I mentioned in the above paragraph are no longer in Trinidad? I certainly do not, but those thoughts have been altered. That’s what the news can do.
I remember the Star-Ledger Newspaper of New Jersey having a policy of not putting crime on its front page. Crime was still reported but not to be seen as the main feature.
Do you think that Mayor Bob Ford is the only drug user in Canada? Do you think that there is no crime in Canada just because you don’t hear about it? I find it interesting that in the recent “world” recession Canada seemed not to be suffering like the rest.
Barbados has no physical resources except its people and relies solely on tourism. This makes us a fragile society solely dependent on the whim and fancy of other people. Should it not then be of paramount importance that we make every effort to paint as attractive and enticing a picture as possible?
A successful tourism product needs such vital ingredients as good impression, anticipated excitement, enjoyment, relaxation, perfect weather, great hospitality, excellent service, sumptuous local dishes, sweet indigenous music, fantastic craft, exceptional entertainment, modern recreational facilities and the world’s most beautiful beaches. I would think that our media would be a most perfect and crucial tool.
This should be the main focus of our local media, especially with the power of the Internet.
If we continue to use crime as our main selling point and therefore plant a negative seed in the minds of potential tourists who have options, the industry could collapse.
When jobs are lost, people then cannot afford to buy newspapers. When newspapers don’t sell, workers are laid off. When newspaper workers are not working they will not be paid – all because of crime.
I thought that crime paid!
• Mac Fingall is an entertainer and retired secondary schoolteacher.