The Duke Chronicle ran an interesting story last week about differences in news coverage surrounding the deaths of two college students in the Durham-Chapel Hill area in recent months.
Ted Vaden, the public editor of The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. (my former newspaper) followed up with a column yesterday.
The killing of Eve Carson, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student body president, shocked the community. Student and community newspapers ran front-page stories of the crime and national network and cable television covered it. Vigils held in her honor attracted thousands. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley offered a reward of as much as $10,000 and the UNC Board of Trustees offered $25,000 for any leads in the Carson case.
By contrast, coverage of the slaying of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato, shot and killed Jan. 18 in his home, was a quiet affair. No rewards were offered in connection with the death of Mahato, an international student from India. A vigil attracted 100 people, according to news accounts.
Vaden's column notes that the killing of another student--Denita Smith, a 25-year-old black graduate student at N.C. Central University who was killed in January 2007--also received relatively little news coverage.
Vaden contends that several important differences in the cases--prominence of the individuals, details of the crime, availability of information from police and other authorities--"explained, if not justified, the varying news coverage."
Certainly, Carson's prominence as an elected official on campus thrust her into a somewhat different news category than Smith and Mahato. But the discrepancies in coverage raise troubling questions all journalists should think about.