Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets

homicide a year on the killing streetsI regularly buy books but I rarely read them. I’m making a conscious effort to rectify that – not only because of the expense of purchasing them, but because reading books is (for me at least) a different type of experience to reading online. I read slower and more carefully, thus absorbing the general flow and patter of a writing style in addition to the content.

The most recent book I have read (for recreation) is Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Being an avid viewer of The Wire (but having not seen either The Corner nor Homicide: Life on the Street) a couple of situations and stories were recognisable (see the video at the bottom of the post – no spoilers). However, the book is so well written that it can be enjoyed irrespective of previous viewing.

The book is divided into 12 chapters – one per month. It is written by David Simon, at the time a reporter on the Baltimore Sun, and follows his year working as a police intern alongside the 15 Homicide detectives (and 3 sergeants) in Lieutenant D’Addario’s shift.

Three elements to the book that were particularly well depicted include

1. The problem solving – a crime scene is a mystery with a clock ticking. The officers have to quickly look for evidence and witnesses as, although a person can only be murdered once, a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times. The book depicts the different ways in which people approach the mystery – it can be methodical, lucky or inspired.

2. The humanity – each person has his (and they are nearly all men) own distinct personality and method. These are not always compatible – yet disagreements are shown from both sides and judgements aren’t made. Sometimes these are resolved and sometimes they are not, but motivations and reasoning of each participant have always been considered.

3. The culture – it feels like a real city, with enclaves of different sub-cultures. The police know that some people don’t talk to them about an investigation, while others talk too much. The situations and the people are all well-realised, and fit together into a larger entity.

In many respects, David Simon was an anthropologist or an ethnographer on his assignment. The book is a successful narrative that not only combines the individual case studies and character investigations, but extrapolates them to a functioning interrelated environment.It is much more than a true crime story; it is a story about people.

He doesn’t castigate or sensationalise. It goes beyond reporting. He strives to understand.

That should be the aspiration for any researcher, strategist or marketer that is responsible for understanding a particular segment or sub-group.

sk

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My name is my name

Marlo Stanfield from the WireSo says Marlo Stanfield. And he has a point.

Reputation means a lot. But reputation is about perception, and there are multiple perspectives in which it can be viewed.

Broadly, reputation can be thought of in four inter-related spheres

  • Yourself – your personal brand
  • Your organisation (this itself can have several facets, if your organisation is part of a larger conglomerate or affiliation)
  • Your industry
  • The wider public

Marlo is concerned with his personal reputation among people in the industry – “the game”. He isn’t so worried about the other facets.

With the prominence of polling in the upcoming general election, the research industry is contemplating its reputation among the wider public.

I don’t think it really matters.

This election is more partisan and contentious than any I recall (most likely driven by the likelihood of change, rising prominence of online media giving a voice to more people, and the novelty of the leadership debates). Pot-shots, such as those against YouGov, are inevitable. This article from Research Live shows how YouGov aren’t doing themselves any favours in their need for speed (and this is leaving aside their associations with The Sun/Murdoch/Conservative Party).

I don’t think it matters because the research industry is rarely public facing – the only publicity it really receives is through political polls and PR research.

I’ve written about the problems with PR research in the past, but there is evidently a market for it and so the method prospers. It might damage the reputation of the industry to the wider public but outside of recruitment  (of staff and respondents/participants) it isn’t really relevant.

As Marlo noted, it is industry reputation – for yourself and your organisation – that really matters.

It is similar to the advertising industry. Successful companies have a lot of brand equity through the quality and associations of their work – Wieden & Kennedy and Nike, Fallon and Cadbury, HHCL and Tango, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Burger King, to give but four examples.

But what proportion of the general public has heard of these companies, let alone recognises and appreciates their work? Not many. Is it a damning indictment of the strength of the marketing industry that it fails in promoting the most basic thing – itself? Not really. Companies attract talent and business through their successes and image – public perception doesn’t factor.

Ray Poynter is rightly concerned with the the ethics of market research but for me, the importance of this is in maintaining business links. There is no adequate means of policing the research industry – anyone can knock on a door and say they are doing a survey – so it is not a battle worth fighting.

Companies stand and fall by the quality of their work – or at least the perception of it within the industry. Sub-standard work that is openly criticised will only harm long-term prosperity.

Self-regulation and recognition, whether through a recognised body like the Market Research Society, or at a more ad hoc level, can achieve this through highlighting good and bad practice.The research industry needs to be more vocal in showcasing good work, and castigating poor work.

This in turn will filter to the individual level, where the talented and ambitious will compete to work for the top companies. This in turn strengthens the work, and thus the industry. It could even permeate to the public.

There is no quick fix to improve the standing of an industry, and in some cases it isn’t necessarily desirable. Rather than look to the big picture, we should focus on the more immediate challenges.

If we all concentrate on undertaking the best possible work, then a strong reputation – for ourselves, our organisation and our industry – will follow.

sk

NB: The clip of the scene with the quote is below (it is from Series 5, so beware of potential spoilers)

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