From the immediate aftermath of the Aaron Hall murder last April, observers have been asking why the mainstream media – especially the Indianapolis Star – have ignored the story. On Aug. 20, Star reporter Jon Murray filed a story titled, "Crime of hate, or alcohol-fueled rage?" about the case.
Following the story, The Bloomington Alternative editor Steven Higgs had the following e-mail exchange with Murray.
-----Steven Higgs wrote: -----
Date: 08/21/2007 10:15AM
Subject: Crothersville story interview questions - RSVP
Dear Mr. Murray,
As I would hope you will know from your research, The Bloomington Alternative broke the Aaron Hall murder story nationally on the Web. And as I am sure you also know, a major question in this story is why it took the Indianapolis Star four months to write about this story.
So I would like to ask you -- why did the Indianapolis Star wait until August to report a story that happened in April?
Another angle to this line of questioning is whether the crime's occurrence during legislative debate on a hate crime bill, and the Star's editorial opposition to the bill, were factors in the editorial decision to ignore the story.
Please note that i will be posting these questions in my ongoing online series on the Aaron Hall murder and will likewise post your response, in its entirety, unedited. The Web site is www.BloomingtonAlternative.com.
If you are not the person to answer these questions, please direct me to that individual.
Thanks for your cooperation. I look forward to your response.
Date: August 22, 2007 1:47:31 PM EDT (CA)
Thanks for the email. I'm off work this week but didn't want to wait until Monday to send you a reply. The stories by the Alternative were among those I read while researching the Hall story, so I'm grateful for the attention you've given the issue. In particular, Denise Travers' interview with Hall's mother was very illuminating. I later interviewed Martha Gumm at her home in Crothersville in preparation for the story.
I know a lot of bloggers and other media outlets have asked why the Star held off on covering Aaron Hall's case. I don't have a complete answer for you, and I can't speak for The Star, my direct editor or the other editors in the newsroom who take part in assigning and editing stories. But here's what I understand: It has to do mainly with geography and resources. It has nothing to do with any positions the editorial board might take, since those editors and writers do not influence news coverage. (They're separate departments.) There was no concerted effort to keep the crime from being reported.
The killing took place in far southern Indiana, well outside our primary coverage area (Indianapolis and surrounding counties). We cover very few stories outside that area, and often we rely on wire reports. Sometimes reporters get sent, but probably not as often as they did in the past. And that leads me to resources -- the Star, like a lot of newspapers, doesn't have many reporters to spare most days, so that's why we're focusing on Indy-area coverage almost exclusively.
In this case, I and others at the paper have followed Hall's killing since it happened. Editors were aware of it. I was assigned a story in early July and worked on it for several weeks while also continuing my primary duties covering Marion County courts. The Hall killing was murky, at best, at that point -- nobody could say for sure whether it really was a hate crime, despite the viciousness of it. That was the angle that attracted my interest and that of my editors, and the story's focus changed again slightly when Detective Henley agreed to be interviewed. The story was not an attempt to report Aaron Hall's killing four months late. Rather, it was about the reception given to the crime in the blogosphere and elsewhere as well as the galvanizing effect the crime has had far outside southern Indiana. That is what made it a story we decided to cover.
I hope that helps. Have a good week.
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