Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Zealand Woman's Crime Scene: Investigation

Sorry about the late posting - would it make you feel better if I told you I had to move my computer so I could sit next to a phone plug and use dial-up internet to post this?

From today's front page:

Leanne Kingston was a doting mother-of-four who was going through a tough time.

The 39-year-old shared custody of her children - aged 8, 14, 16, and 19 - with their father, her on-and-off partner, who she had just broken up with again.

Ohhhh-kaaaay. So?
On Monday the children waited patiently at school, but their mother never came to collect them. Ms Kingston, one of triplets, was found dead by her sister in the bathroom of her modest Papakura home about 4pm.
In other words, a woman was murdered. Why can't the media just say this anymore? It seems like some sort of biographical intro, the text equivalent of a violin soundtrack in a minor key, is necessary for every single article. Honestly, are we so jaded that we need to be overtly led to feel sad and angry about someone's murder? The article continues:

Friend and neighbour Margaret Tate said she and the children's father couldn't live together, but couldn't stay apart.

"They used to have time out, he would go out of the country or to the South Island for a while," she said.

This is a woman who just got murdered, not a fading Dancing with the Stars starlet selling her story to the Woman's Weekly. Questionable taste and questionable relevance. Finally, however, the story gets on to talking about the actual event, and the ongoing police investigation. What follows is a rare inside-look at the nitty-gritty of how the thin blue line protects the public:

Police have spoken to several people, including the children's father.

[...] Yesterday, forensic experts and detectives scoured the property and spoke to neighbours.

Police said friends and family of the dead woman would be interviewed to try to determine her movements. Other addresses connected with the woman were also being examined.

Asked if her killer was someone she knew, Mr Gutry said police were keeping an open mind.

"We're looking at all options, looking at everything."

That information would determine which direction the inquiry took, he said.

"Asked if her killer was someone she knew"? Well, given that no one has been arrested for, let alone convicted of, the murder, I can imagine the police having a hard time ascertaining whether they knew the victim - no 'homicide note' having apparently been left to clear things up. How inconsiderate.

That aside, I can't imagine anyone getting less information from the story had the entire last section been cut and replaced with: "Police are investigating like they usually do." Looking at forensic evidence on the property? Check. Interviewing friends, family and witnesses? Check. Let's just call it 'looking up leads'. Not leaping to conclusions and arresting random people on the street? Check. But that last sentence cracks me up:
That information would determine which direction the inquiry took, he said.
So... the information that police get from the site, witnesses and initial leads will decide what they do next? As they say on the internet: Thanks. For. That.


  1. Funny how they introduce the father as a character so early in the story.


    Cue YV: I reckon it was the father what done it. I have no evidence but it's obvious that he wanted the kids!

  2. To be fair, the violin-string intro is pretty rare, even in the Herald.

    What's unusual is that the fact she was going through a "tough time" is apparently important enough to make the first paragraph. I imagine it's code for "we know something but can't or won't say it (yet)", which justifies the front page and needlessly long article.

    None of the other news organisations covering the story have given it more than the 4 sentences needed to cover the facts.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the Herald has some exclusive gossip - sorry, news - about the victim. And if it's nothing more than the relationship with the ex then yeah, this story should be in the Women's Weekly.

  3. How was dial-up internet for you James - did you go make a cuppa while waiting for pages to load? Ah the good old days.

  4. This reminds me of primary school when we were learning about newspapers. We were taught that a good newspaper article should cover the 5 Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why) and How. Ideally, these should be covered briefly in the first paragraph.
    Ah the 80s. How times have changed. Ha. Hahaha! Hahahahahaahahahahahaaaaaa!

  5. James I am no journo, but is there a reason why TWO reporters are mentioned in the byline?

    Theory: Rach puts the tough questions to the coppers and Andy fluffs up the intro like some pretendy Raymond Chandler

  6. "To be fair, the violin-string intro is pretty rare, even in the Herald."

    I disagree. Every death I see reported is always prefaced by some sort of family status, for max heartstring tug. Mother of 4 - "Oh 4 poor kids just lost their mum!" Father of 2 - "Oh, the major breadwinner of the family just died!". I find it incredibly sexist.

    I've always wondered what my "death intro" would be - "Childless careerwoman, survived by a cat". Read: souless, child hating crazy cat lady bitch.

    The Herald, and all media, love reinforcing societal procreation rules. The only good dead person is one who has spawned.

  7. CCS:

    I have six faithful serving-men
    They taught me all I knew
    Their names are What and Where and When
    And Why and How and Who.

    Nothing wrong with that!

  8. And to be fair, this isn’t really sexist. You have proved this in your own post, citing a male and female example. Articles are always going to pick up on the fact that someone was a parent, or some other fact about them, sometimes it’s the fact they were young, or were just about start their first job after uni, or had made a new start after a life of petty crime. It’s just the heart-string stuff. They're going to look for that with anyone, even the childless careerwomen.

    This was a pretty extreme case of the violins, but it’s hardly sexist.

  9. Mine would be 'lesbian murder scandal rocks quiet neighbourhood; neighbours say 'she seemed so normal'.
    Then they would mention that I was recently unemployed (read family-hating dole-bludger). Oh yes - and my partner would be described in the DomPost as my flatmate, and in the Herald as 'female lover denies murder'. The Herald would sell more copies.

  10. Gwan: Nice, I don't think I've heard that one before. Somebody should email it to the Herald...

  11. I could tell she was a souless, child hating crazy cat lady bitch well before spelled it out for us.

  12. Although to be totally accurate they shouldn't have referred to it as "murder" as you do but a "homicide". It won't be a murder until a jury says so. That's the hard news style that should be followed.

  13. no it isn't. murder is murder, manslaughter is what it often gets downgraded to, and homicide is the name of a crap american tv show.

  14. "I could tell she was a souless, child hating crazy cat lady bitch well before spelled it out for us."

    :P I think you missed my point that a four word description doesn't accurately reflect a life. For women there's sexism yes, but there's also racial and class bias.

    What if my description was something like "Small business manager who channelled her energies into anonymously supporting local charity". Would that make me a nicer person?

    My main point stands - why does a murder victim (male or female) have to be described as a parent? There's more to a life than being a parent.

    It's just lazy journalism, and lazy on the part of society to accept that as proper journalism.

  15. Anonymous, your point seems to be about the issue you have about being judged for not having children. You didn’t really talk about class, or racial bias. Maybe I’m blind but I don’t see the sexism in here at all, apart from maybe you assuming that the father is the "major breadwinner". Sexism is defined as “being discriminated on the basis of sex, esp. oppression of women by men,” and I struggle to see how making a point of her being a parent is sexist.
    Of course there is more to life than being a parent, but the fact here is that she had four children, and one of the saddest things about this murder is that are now without their mother. I don’t think that’s lazy journalism. The rest of the story is, but the part you have picked up on isn't.

  16. I have worked on newspapers where 'mother of four' et al is considered an insult to both subject and newspaper.

    Unless crucially relevant to the story (like all four kids being called moonchild or all dying in horrible incidents with lollipops etc) it should not be used. It is a value judgment, ie the sprogs are the most important thing to have happened in that person's life. Most people have children.

    Unless you wish to turn your article into a Greek tragedy, what place does it have in hard news reporting?

    Above all it is tabloidese construction - no one says 'mother of four' in the real world. All through my career I have made efforts to avoid tabloidese but it seems that the eejits entering journalism these days neither know nor care.

  17. I'm just glad they included the fact she was "one of triplets". Now I care about the murder.

    I bet the other two did it.