March 26, 2007 Crime

The latest issue of the Smithsonian features an article on the digitizing of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, now available online, searchable by keyword, type of crime, and quite a few other ways.

Until I'd spent some time looking over the articles in the Proceedings, this passage from the Smithsonian piece was rather jarring:

The Proceedings' first issues were thin, cheap and focused on sex and violence, but as time passed, they became more comprehensive and formal, eventually acquiring the stature of an official record; Shoemaker and Hitchcock call them "the largest body of texts dealing with non-elite people ever published." Non-elite indeed! The court records document a tough, teeming London just beginning to flex its muscles as the commercial center of the Western world. The Proceedings made a profit virtually from the first pamphlet issued and thrived for decades afterward. It's easy to see why.

Until you realize that the Proceedings reproduce testimony of victims and witnesses, who often describe their occupations (and how the tools of their trade were stolen, or how they came to see Mr. Hyde trample the child), the bit about non-elites makes it seem as if they were all in the dock at the Old Bailey.

One note (really the reason I started this entry): Newspapers seeking readers might well consider beefing up their coverage of crime--covering victims, criminals, trials, judges and lawyers. Our criminal courts are all but ignored as subjects of interest by elite newspapers, perhaps because the stories that unfold there are of little direct concern to the kinds of people who work at newspapers. But readers, I think, respond well to stories involving law and order--especially if they're well written, or unfold in a dramatic fashion over time.

Posted by Ideofact at March 26, 2007 11:59 PM