As I handed my kid her Sunday morning plate of blueberry pancakes and simultaneously wrenched the remote out of her hand so I could tune-in the Georgia Gang (I’m getting really good at this maneuver), away goes Sponge Bob and up pops Phil Kent, who was deep in the momentary thrall of calling Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin “a liar.”
Kent says Mayor Franklin is telling outright lies when she says, as she did again recently, that crime in Atlanta is, statistically, down. Kent says Franklin is lying because crimes in the City of Atlanta are actually up, but there’s no way to prove this because APD is not providing accurate stats for interested parties – the “interested parties” being local journalism outlets such as The Sunday Paper and the AJC; that any efforts by journos-with-money to find reliable and accurate crime stats are being thwarted by APD and/or, I presume, City Hall.
Kent cited The Sunday Paper’s recent story by editor Stephanie Ramage about crime stats in Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods as his journo-source in this matter. In the story, Ramage is hinting of a gross cover-up or manipuation by APD of the actual crime stats in Atlanta – a deeply serious charge with criminal implications for those involved, and an historical issue former APD deputy chief Louis Arcangeli has never been shy about going on the record about, at the expense of his APD job too. From The Sunday Paper:
“You are talking about a department that has a proven, documented track record of manipulating the numbers, so you have to consider that the police department might be doing it again,” says Louis Arcangeli, a former deputy chief of the APD who now teaches criminal justice at Georgia State University. “The amount of public concern is completely at odds with the numbers, and that’s troubling.”
(And the matter of The Sunday Paper being a credible news org was laughingly and haughtily dismissed by Jeff Dickerson on today’s Georgia Gang episode, but that’s a whole other can ‘o worms for a whole other blog post right now. Still, what else we got to help us out in the urgent and critical need for data-driven, reliable journalism? The Panda Press (AJC)?. Thus my plea here. Keep reading.)
Whatever Kent says, Mayor Franklin’s numerous attempts to cite magical statistics about crime in Atlanta are not getting any leverage in the court of public perception. Citizens simply feel crime is out of control. Everyone feels victimized by crime. (This I know from my own citizen reporting on the matter.) People feel Chief Pennington is out-to-lunch and indifferent to their perception. Pennington sure doesn’t help when he says citizens concerns are based on citizens’ “misperceptions.”
To heck with Chief Pennington though, as Atlantans Together Against Crime (ATAC) continues to enlist thousands to their grass-roots cause, with the next ATAC rally scheduled for Monday, February 23rd at 5pm at the corner of MLK and Joseph Lowery.
The big problem for Mayor Franklin is that the stories from the droves of crime victims in Atlanta are now being heard. It doesn’t really matter if crime is up or down, come to think about it. The thing that matters is, because of social media and the networks created in that medium, stories can now be told in new media ways they never were before. The pain of the people comes through loud and clear online… now that harrowing tales of death and survival on the mean street of the ATL are so easily told and shared. Yes, despite City Hall’s best efforts to tone down the citizenry’s rhetoric, voices will be heard.
But that’s one piece of the new media pie in the matter of Atlanta’s magical crime stats. The other is the hard, cold reality of what the crime stats really are now. Who do you believe? Are they up or are they down? Let’s put the matter to Professor Leonard Witt and Kennessaw State University (KSU). Why this place? Why this person?
Because Witt and KSU just received some nice bucks (1.5 million to be precise) to create The Center for Sustainable Journalism. Given the mission and the message of The Center for Sustainable Journalism (CSJ), seems Atlanta’s mysterious crime stats would be the perfect place to apply the resources KSU now has.
From the press release about The Center for Sustainable Journalism (CSJ):
KENNESAW, Ga. (February 7, 2009) In the midst of an annual conference designed to pinpoint the Southeast’s niche in the digital media revolution, Kennesaw State University announced receipt of a $1.5 million gift from the Harnisch Foundation to establish a center to research and develop innovative ways to produce and distribute news.
Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp announced the award and the creation of The Center for Sustainable Journalism Feb. 7 at the SoCon09 “Unconference” attended by more than 300 business, non-profit and media professionals, bloggers and digital media enthusiasts.
The center will be overseen by Leonard Witt, Kennesaw State’s Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication, eminent scholar and associate professor, who organized the SoCon09 conference. Witt is a pioneer in developing community-supported journalism models and exploring the potential of online social networks to disseminate news.
Full press release here.
Crime and the APD’s ability to control it aside, what is sustainable in Atlanta now are the networks and the crowd sourcing and the social media structure that would allow for deep and comprehensive dissemination of the journalistic, data-driven findings of a journalism project that would help the citizens of all metro Atlanta get to the heart of our mysterious and sometimes magical crime stats situation.
So what’dya say, CSJ? Wanna get crackin’ on tackling a community-based journalism project right in your own backyard? Enquiring minds need to know, and it might help a lot of people sleep better at night. And I’m always good for a quickie video package or two.