The first freshly dead body I ever saw lay in the back of a police vehicle, an African-American teenager who had tried to shoot an off-duty cop. He missed, and got shot by the cop instead.

For the City News Bureau of Chicago, that was a story. But not every shooting death was news in 1982. There were 670 homicides in Chicago that year, and City News judged a large number of them “cheap.”

That’s right — “cheap.” It was news slang for an event that was not worth a story. It was also a ghastly way to describe a lost life, even in the hard-bitten argot of City News.

The notion of a “cheap” death came to mind after the weekend carnage of 74 shootings and 12 deaths in Chicago. Those deaths made headlines, but largely because there were so many of them.

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David Greising

David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative...