How KCUR reporters collaborate for better, more empathetic crime coverage
KCUR criminal justice reporter Peggy Lowe and race and culture reporter Lawrence Brooks IV share how they work together to paint a more complete picture of crime, policing and community impact in the Kansas City region.
Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst reportedly coined the term, “If it bleeds, it leads,” in 1890, recognizing that stories of horrific acts caught the attention of the paper-buying public.
Even today, salacious headlines and images consistently serve as the center of TV broadcasts and media outlets, while “true crime” podcasts and books top the charts.
At KCUR, reporters and editors have taken a different approach.
“KCUR long ago made the editorial decision to not be a ‘crime blotter,'" says KCUR’s Peggy Lowe, KCUR's criminal justice reporter and a veteran investigative journalist. "Instead, we focus on crime trends, empathy for those affected by crime and gun violence, and digging beyond the police press releases.”
Lowe frequently teams up with KCUR race and culture reporter Lawrence Brooks IV, whose mission is to “deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home.”
Last month, Lowe and Brooks were provided full scholarships to attend the recent Crime Coverage Summit in New Orleans, hosted by RTDNA.
The conference brought together news leaders and journalists from radio, television, print and digital media learn about ways journalists can more thoughtfully cover crime. Topics included dealing with the police, covering race and juvenile justice, gun violence, media bias and mental health in newsrooms.
“It’s great to see the RTDNA encouraging media organizations to come together and really think critically about crime coverage,” says Lowe.
Lowe and Brooks' collaboration was apparent in their work last May, when KCUR covered the death Amaree’ya Henderson, a Kansas City, Kansas, man killed by a KCKPD officer during a traffic stop.
Brooks covered protests over the shooting, while Lowe investigated police procedures and reported on changing dynamics in Kansas City, Kansas, which had a Black police chief and district attorney for the first time. (No charges were ultimately filedby Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree.)
When the Missouri Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case of Eric DeValkanaere, the Kansas City Police detective convicted of killing Cameron Lamb, a Black man, Brooks reported from protests outside the courthouse while Lowe covered events inside. (DeValkanaere's conviction was upheld, andhe was arrested. He has since asked the governor for a pardon.)
Both reporters covered the case of Timothy Haslett, the Excelsior Springs man accused of beating, raping and holding captive a 22-year-old Black woman. Brooks looked into fears from the Black community that police weren’t taking reports of missing Black women seriously. Lowe kept on top of the court case and reported a story highlighting the life of one of Haslett’s alleged victims.
“We know that these cases are complex, but more than that, there are so many more stories people just are not hearing from other media," Brooks says. "We have to draw a bigger picture about why and who."
“You don’t typically hear about crime happening in rural areas, or the suburbs. It is happening there, believe me,” Brooks continues. “Focusing on urban crime only compounds the notion that crime in the city is rampant, and disproportionately carried out by people of color. The data says otherwise. The statistics actually show that crime is steadily declining in all sectors.”
Both agree that they approach their reporting using critical analysis — thinking about what factors may have led to the crime and what the impact is on the families, on the community and on policies around policing.
“By shining a light on implicit bias and challenging the status quo, journalists can truly affect positive change for victims, their families and their community," Lowe says.