Jan. 28, 2013
A reporter emerges from obscurity by writing exclusive articles about the serial-murder victims he killed; an aspiring crime writer murders for a good plot.
by Ben Johnson
Murder and the media have always gone hand in hand. Some of the greatest and most provocative journalism and greatest books ever written come from the dark and disturbing world of violent crime.
One of the greatest breaks a reporter can wish for in his or her career is stumbling upon an exclusive involving serial murder. It is the kind of topic that can propel a journalist into the limelight. An example of this phenomenon is the aspiring political cartoonist Robert Graysmith who was a member of the San Francisco Chronicle's junior staff before his tenacity in the still unsolved Zodiac murders propelled him to international fame, culminating in book deals and a major Hollywood movie.
The thirst for this kind of fame and recognition can, however, be dangerously addictive to some, resulting in risk-taking and ethically questionable behavior. Perhaps the most notable example of this is Phil Stanford, who corresponded with Keith Hunter Jesperson (the Happy Face Killer) and defied the wishes of local law enforcement by publishing a series of articles which proved that two innocent people were serving time for Jesperson's first murder. Although Stanford took huge risks and could be said to have acted unethically due to publishing his series of articles against the wishes of the police, nobody could argue that his actions were not in the public interest, and therefore in this case, the risk paid off.