BOSTON — The mass murder two weeks ago has put a spotlight on Mattapan that many residents are not happy about. No one is saying the media shouldn’t have covered the murders — the problem for many people was how it was covered and how reporters write about Mattapan the rest of the year.
Here’s how WFNX, an FM station owned by the Boston Phoenix, talked about the murders on the air: “Boston was shaken to its core this week when someone shot and killed four people, including a toddler and wounded a fifth person in Mattapan, a neighborhood some people are now calling ‘Murderpan’.”
That name — Murderpan — is one Bishop John Borders III denounces. “I think it is a wicked phrase,” says Border, who heads the Morning Star Baptist Church. His church stands on a hill just blocks from the site of the murders. Border’s not a particularly political minister, but he says these deaths have changed him.
When Borders delivered the eulogy for the toddler and his mother who were killed in the massacre, he suggested that the media were part of the problem. He implored reporters to tell stories about the good in Mattapan — “to find a way to better report, and more balanced reporting regarding the life and activity of people in the inner city.”
Lack Of Positive Coverage In Urban Neighborhoods
Borders complained that reporters don’t know much about his neighborhood. He pointed to a story filed outside his church after the funeral, in which a veteran TV reporter mistakenly said she was in Roxbury, not Mattapan.
To Borders, the mix-up signals a general lack of interest in neighborhoods where many of the residents are black. It’s a common perception that reporters only cover violent crime and political scandals in these neighborhoods.
at-large Boston city councilor
“I disagree with the assessment that we parachute into Mattapan or other city neighborhoods only when there’s a sensational crime,” said Jen Peter, local news editor for the Boston Globe.
“In Mattapan, we’ve covered the new library there extensively. We did a story about concerns of local citizens about the very screechy wheels of the local trolleys. We’ve written about the farmers market there,” she says.
Peter acknowledges that pressure from readers has focused more Globe attention to the suburbs over the years. But she says the paper remains committed to covering Boston. For the last two years, the Globe has assigned a reporter to focus on Boston neighborhoods. And last week, Boston.com rolled out a hyperlocal website dedicated to Mattapan.
But to Ayanna Pressley, an at-large city councilor from Dorchester, that’s not enough. Pressley has publicly called on reporters to write more positive stories about young people of color.
“If we don’t challenge ourselves to tell the full story, I think it gives people outside of those neighborhoods an excuse to not pay attention and not think about, what can they do to improve the situation, and I believe we all have a responsibility in this,” Pressley says.
“We’re one Boston. We are one big neighborhood, if you will. But if you’re only hearing one viewpoint and one perspective and it is always tragic, then you know, not everyone is going to operate from a place of empathy and compassion.”
And context, says Dorchester resident Kenneth Cooper. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist says the Boston Globe did a thorough job covering the murders, but says it and other media characterized Mattapan as one-dimensional.
“A good many sections of Mattapan are middle-class communities of homeowners who are working hard to make a living and try to move up in the world. They don’t go around in trepidation of becoming a victim of street crime,” Cooper says.
Cooper says too few reporters know much about neighborhoods in Boston, particularly those populated by people of color. He says assignment editors should ask reporters to explore deeper in neighborhoods, such as Mattapan.
But he says ultimately, the biggest problem might be the composition of newsrooms, where there are few black reporters or editors.