Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two newspapers, two fatal dog attacks, two different styles of reporting

Today, a dog killed another 2-year old child. This time in San Diego. As sad and tragic as this horrific incident is, it unfortunately stands as an example of inequitable news coverage.

California has seen two recent fatal. In one, a dog identified as a Pit Bull killed a 2 year old in northern California.  Today, a dog identified as a German Shepherd killed a toddler.

Let's take a look at how two media outlets reported the attacks.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the "Pit Bull" attack as follows:
Owner of pitbulls that killed CA boy arrested.
It even reported on a nonfatality involving a dog identified as "Pit Bull":
Pit bull bites 7-year-old Oakland girl in the face

The German Shepherd attack was headlined as, "Dog mauls toddler to death in Tierrasanta"

San Francisco chronicle also reported on the German shepherd story: 2-year-old mauled to death by family dog

But when a Pit Bull simply bit a girl in the face in the Oakland incident, the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the breed in the headline: Pit Bull bites 7-year old Oakland girl in the face.

And the Concord fatality:
Step-grandfather talks about killer pit bulls

The unequal reporting makes an association between "Pit Bull" and attack or mauling but not other breeds because the other breeds generally aren't mentioned in the headline. Unless you clicked on the story of the German shepherd, you'd have no idea what the breed was (and may have even assumed it to be a Pit Bull because that's what people are used to seeing in headline news). The day the Oakland girl was bitten in the face by a Pit Bull, other children in the bay area were bitten by dogs not identified as Pit Bulls. It happens every day in every city in America, and yet most were not reported.

The old adage, "Dog bites man, isn't news. Man bites dog, is news," has taken a dark turn in today's society. Now, it's "Dog bites man, isn't news. Pit Bull bites anything, it's headline news."


  1. Just this week:
    Breed Ban Repealed - covered in at least 20 outlets this week
    GSD fatally mauls 2 yo - covered in at least 35 outlets this week
    Woman fears dogs after bite - did not lead with pit bull
    Dog owner gets a three-year ban after park attacks - did not lead with pit bull -or breed of dog

    gimme a break

  2. Very often there are unusual circumstances around pit bull attacks that make them more newsworthy. For example, pit bulls kill a man, attack his daughter and two emergency responders plus the dogs are connected to a sex offender or how about stray dogs breaking into home and attacking people and pets. Honestly, i don't why that Oregon attack did not garner more coverage!
    In the Concord case, something very unusual occurred: they arrested someone almost immediately. And the next day, the suspect is giving jail house interviews. Can you point to another attack where this has happened?

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