The Enquirer's OTR Shooting Coverage Was a Huge Mess

A few years ago, a friend and I were walking down the street in Over-the-Rhine from Neons to somewhere north on Main Street — maybe MOTR, maybe our friend’s place at 13th and Clay, might have been heading back to a car. I’m not really sure — it’s been three or four years now since people started coming back to the (mostly nighttime) amenities in the neighborhood. 

Just before we turned the corner from 12th onto Main, gunshots popped off behind us. We turned around and saw some dude running south on Sycamore. We bolted onto Main and jumped into a storefront doorway until things calmed down, called the police and then continued on our way. I followed up and found out that the man we saw running away neither died nor killed anyone.

It was a scene that has grown less common in recent years in the area, as the push of development has moved much of the drug dealing and related violence outward into other neighborhoods. In January WCPO reported that violent crime in OTR was down 74 percent since 2004, in part due to development and evolving policing tactics.

Such facts didn't deter The Enquirer from freaking the hell out yesterday when one of its reporters witnessed a shooting in front of a bunch of popular OTR restaurants. Reporter Emilie Eaton was on the same block when 30-year-old Gregory Douglas was shot around 9 a.m. near Vine and Mercer streets, fled a short distance then collapsed and died. Police today issued a warrant for the arrest of Darnell Higgins for the murder.

It's been a sad day for a lot of people: families and friends of the deceased and the accused; those who witnessed such violence up close.

It’s also a sad day to consider the state of local media, considering the response we've seen so far to The Enquirer's collection of coverage. It started with the reporter's first-person account of witnessing the shooting. Then came a news story questioning the neighborhood's safety, for some reason quoting the Hamilton County Republican chairman and a lone neighborhood resident saying he didn't feel safe these days. Soon afterward, a more formed version of the story was updated online — this time the headline tried to cleverly play on the word "dead" (“Gunfire in OTR brings morning to a dead stop”). The headline was later changed, “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR," though the insensitive quip lives on in the story's URL.

The Enquirer’s decision to frame Douglas’ death as a question of whether or not OTR is safe for those of us unaccustomed to witnessing violence is generating the type of online debate (/clicks) the "newsroom of the future" was meant to induce. It has also been heavily criticized.

Here’s former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken on Facebook:

Here’s Derek Bauman, an OTR and mass transit advocate/suburban police officer, who wondered on Twitter why the first source in an early version of the “Is OTR safe yet” story quoted the county GOP chair before anyone else. Alex Triantafilou’s take? “There is more work to be done to make our city as safe as the suburbs."

Eaton's first-person story was published just hours after the shooting occurred. "A stray bullet could have easily missed the victim and hit me," she wrote. "The gunman could have come around the corner for me. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now."

The story elicited strong response from readers, but perhaps not the kind the Enquirer was picturing. About 20 wrote comments questioning the appropriateness of the piece, many along the lines of this:

As writers molded dispatches from the scene into The Enquirer’s larger collection of reporting on the incident, debate continued on social media. Enquirer writer John Faherty took to the comment section of Eaton's article to defend her.

Those of us in the media don’t enjoy criticizing each others' work, and we realize most people in the industry are dedicated and passionate. We respect colleagues at other media companies, especially when their dedication to the craft is evident.

Eaton clearly had a shitty morning. Her decision to immediately get back to doing her job is admirable.

Unfortunately, the collection of work to which she contributed was misguided, made worse by the classlessness with which Enquirer editors showed along the way. Publishing right-wing digs at inner-city neighborhoods has been a longstanding tradition at The Enquirer. Using a play on the word "dead" in a news story about a murder is the type of move that would get a college newspaper in trouble. It shouldn't be OK at any self-respecting daily. 

There's no way to tell which “content coach” might have shaped yesterday’s coverage. Any number of web editors could have written such an offensive headline — the newsroom of the future isn't set up to catch these things. Newsroom morale has been known to be low at Gannett papers across the country, and many of us actually feel bad for the many talented people struggling to produce quality work under such restrictive guidelines. 

Ultimately, reporting that might have culminated in an articulation of how opposite worlds intertwine in front of our eyes every day instead became a question of whether it's smart to eat and shop near poor people.

Later versions of the story noted that the lunch rush on Vine Street continued as usual just hours later, suggesting that maybe the question of whether or not Vine Street is safe had already been answered. 

"I'm not worried about it," said Mike Georgitan, a general manager at Pontiac BBQ on Vine Street. "It might affect lunch today – maybe," he shrugged. "But then it will pick back up."

A person is dead, and the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that gripped Over-the-Rhine long before a Japanese gastropub opened at 15th and Vine is still occurring all over this city.

The Enquirer would be wise to demonstrate an understanding of these forces rather than following the path of least resistance to Internet debate.

It would be a lot more compelling than a description of how witnessing violence makes a typical white person feel.

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