Diane Dimond: Crime and justice issues are on the public’s radar
By Diane Dimond
Last year’s tally is now in, and the news story that garnered the most searches on the Internet was … (can I get a drum roll, please?) … A crime story!
Before I get to the winner, may I just say that life, as a crime and justice columnist, is sometimes a lonely one. I don’t think there’s another writer in America who — week in and week out — concentrates only on issues surrounding our justice system. I’m fascinated by the topic but, sometimes, I wonder how many of you readers are. Sure, I get mail from many of you, and I truly appreciate it, but now I have some real statistics to back up the idea that Americans are, indeed, interested in following crime and justice stories.
There’s a company called Searchmetrics, which keeps track of trends and clicks and views of just about everything on the worldwide web. It also identifies which U.S. newspapers are the most popular on Twitter (The winner last year: the Washington Post, which had its articles tweeted out more than 275,000 times) and which individual stories have been shared most often.
So, the Twitter traffic winner of 2013 was a USA Today article about Evan Spencer Ebel, a 28-year-old parolee from Denver who was a prime suspect in the shooting death of Tom Clements, the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. One evening in March 2013, Clements, 58, answered the door at his home and was shot dead. The FBI was called in, and the fact that a top prison official could be killed on his own doorstep captivated readers. In addition, Ebel was wanted in connection with the shooting death of Nathan Leon, a Colorado pizza delivery driver.
The winning article vividly described how law enforcement in Texas ended the nationwide manhunt for Ebel after a spectacular, cross-county, high-speed chase. After crashing into an 18-wheeler hauling a load of rocks and shooting at several sheriffs’ deputies, Ebel was shot in the head. Police discovered his gun was the same caliber used to kill Clements and Leon. In the Cadillac, deputies found a Domino’s pizza box.
Hundreds of thousands thought that story was interesting enough to share it with others. It was tweeted out a total of 408,816 times!
The second most-tweeted article last year was from the Washington Post and had to do with the investigative findings into the case of Adam Lanza, the disturbed young man who killed his mother and then 26 others inside an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. That article was shared 361,259 times.
The third most-tweeted story had to do with the presidential election in Kenya, but in the fourth and fifth slots — more crime and justice stories. Number four was an article on the U.S. Supreme Court and potential action on provisions of the voting law (308,926 tweets). And No. five was a story and a pictorial spread about a massive rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the day the justices heard the first of two cases involving gay marriage.
I know a tweet count is far from hard scientific data, but consider it a sort of Internet focus group on how citizens react to today’s overabundance of news. As the Searchmetrics list clearly shows the top stories on the Twitterverse weren’t about celebrity breakups or addictions, they weren’t about sports or movies or business news. That so many hundreds of thousands of Americans would bother to tweet so many crime and justice articles helps erase the idea that the public is apathetic about the topic.
I hope it also signals to media executives a renewed interest in news outside the political sphere. Certainly, it is important to be informed about what our elected officials are doing (or not doing), but if you watch any of the three major cable news channels — CNN, Fox and MSNBC — you know what I mean. Each of those networks has major staff based in Washington, D.C., and each continues to stubbornly cling to a lineup of news that’s heavy with national politics. No matter that we, the news-consuming audience, are transfixed by stories that have little or nothing to do with bickering politicians.
My point in looking back at the most popular news stories of 2013 is twofold. First is a very personal reason — the knowledge that I am not alone in caring about crime and justice issues. From nationwide manhunts and shootouts illuminated by the fire of an exploding Cadillac to legal cases that define who we are legally allowed to love and marry — these are topics that define who we are as a people.
The second reason is to thank all those who take the time to stay informed about what is going on in the world around you. It is so important. In these seemingly contradictory, us-versus-them days, when we define ourselves by which candidate we voted for, it is really nice — dare I say, heartening — to know so many Americans still want to be well-versed on news that’s not so readily available by flipping on the television.
Thanks for caring. And thanks for reading this column every week. As a wise man — a mentor of mine — once told me, “You can never go wrong having too much information in your head.”