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Articles by David Cay Johnston

It’s Scary Out There in Reporting Land: Why Crime News is on the Rise and Reporting Analysis is on the Decline

To understand how badly we’re doing the most basic work of journalism in covering the law enforcement beat, try sitting in a barbershop. When I was getting my last haircut, the noon news on the television—positioned to be impossible to avoid watching—began with a grisly murder. The well-educated man in the chair next to me started ranting about how crime is out of control.

But it isn’t. I told Frank, a regular, that crime isn’t running wild and his chance of being burglarized today is less than one quarter what it was in 1980. [Author’s note: Upon further checking, I learned that the chance of getting burglarized today is actually 42.5 percent of what it was in 1980].

The shop turned so quiet you could have heard a hair fall to the floor had the scissors not stopped. The barbers and clients listened intently as I next told them about how the number of murders in America peaked back in the early 1990’s at a bit south of 25,000 and fell to fewer than 16,000 in 2009. When we take population growth into account, this means your chance of being murdered has almost been cut in half.

“So why is ...