Media och kamphundar

A couple of months ago, a writer from the Denver Post acknowledged that his newspaper was guilty — as charged – of over-reporting dog bites attributed to ‘pit bulls’ vs other types of dogs. In Denver, the newspaper had covered individual dog bite incidents 20 times in the past 5 years — and the breed or type of dog was mentioned on only 9 occassions — in 8 of those, a ‘pit bull’ was the dog responsible.

Now, a reporter/blogger in San Francisco took it upon herself to look at how the San Francisco Chronicle has faired in its reporting.

According to her information, since 2005, the newspaper has covered 34 specific dog attacks.  ”Pit Bulls” were responsible for 22 of the attacks — and in every single instance the ‘breed’ of dog was mentioned in the headline.

However, in the 12 articles about incidents not involving ‘pit bull’ type dogs — not a single article had the breed of dog involved in the attack in the headline.  Even the writer acknowledges that her paper may be responsible for over-reporting as well.

What the writer fails to note, is the headlines only tell a partial story.

According to numbers that I obtained through an FOI request a couple of years ago, in the time period of July 1, 2004 – August 15, 2007, ‘pit bulls’ accounted for 17.7% of all of the dog bites recorded by San Francisco animal control.  So while bites by ‘pit bulls’ accounted for 17.7% of all bites, they accounted for 65% of all dog bite stories – -and 100% of the stories where the breed type was mentioned in the headlines.

This is a common theme when it comes to media reporting — I noted this about a year ago about reporting in Mobile, AL also.

As more newspapers begin to acknowledge their role in creating the hysteria, we can begin changing the narrative from being about breed-hysteria, and more about actual causes of bites and attacks which will make a real difference in dog bite safety. It also continues to slash away at any credibility dog bite ”studies” based solely on media accounts may have ever had.

In the Denver Post and the San Francisco Chronicle we have 2 of the 10 largest circulation newspapers in the country admitting that they are guilty…hopefully this will be a trend that will lead to the problem being fixed.

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