ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

This study examines the representation of crime stories in the news. Using 71 matched pairs, we examine the constructed elements in the reporting of crime stories between newspapers and local television to document similarities and differences across the mediums. Although considerable work has been devoted to discerning differences in reporting across types of media, little research has investigated how the same crime story “gets told” in one medium compared to another. With matched-pairs of stories, we are able to do this. In this study, we also use content analysis to examine a subset of cases that focus on juveniles to ascertain how atypical victims and offenders are portrayed in the media. Although youth are much less likely to commit crime and to be victimized compared to adults, their stories are disproportionately “the stuff of news.” Collectively, the findings indicate that news reporting follows the law of opposites—the characteristics of crime, criminals, and victims represented in the media are in most respects the polar opposite of the pattern suggested by official crime statistics. This was especially the case in news reports involving juvenile victims and offenders.
Content may be subject to copyright.
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Crime in the News:
How Crimes, Offenders and Victims Are Portrayed in the Media*
By
Jessica M. Pollak
Charis E. Kubrin
George Washington University
This study examines the representation of crime stories in the news. Using 71 matched pairs, we
examine the constructed elements in the reporting of crime stories between newspapers and local
television to document similarities and differences across the mediums. Although considerable work
has been devoted to discerning differences in reporting across types of media, little research has
investigated how the same crime story “gets told in one medium compared to another. With
matched-pairs of stories, we are able to do this. In this study, we also use content analysis to examine
a subset of cases that focus on juveniles to ascertain how atypical victims and offenders are
portrayed in the media. Although youth are much less likely to commit crime and to be victimized
compared to adults, their stories are disproportionately “the stuff of news.” Collectively, the findings
indicate that news reporting follows the law of opposites—the characteristics of crime, criminals,
and victims represented in the media are in most respects the polar opposite of the pattern suggested
by official crime statistics. This was especially the case in news reports involving juvenile victims
and offenders.
Keywords: media, victims’ studies
INTRODUCTION
Everyday people consume the news from a variety of sources including television, radio,
newspaper, and the Internet but few are aware of potential biases in the construction and
reporting of news stories. All news, no matter the source, has a constructed newsworthy quality.
There are important reasons why one story is selected for coverage when another is not. “Events
that appear to disrupt expectations [or are] deviant occurrences are the stuff of news” (Reiner,
Livingstone and Allen 2003:13). These “disrupted expectations” and “deviant occurrences” are
particularly characteristic of crime news stories.
Critical attention to how crime is reported in the news is necessary given the way in
which the media represent these events heavily influences our understanding of crime in society.
“Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values; what we consider good
or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil” (Kellner 1995:24). The extent of influence depends,
* An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2006 Eastern Sociological Society meetings in Boston. We
thank Lisa Torres and Steven Chermak for helpful comments. Address correspondence to: Charis E. Kubrin, George
Washington University, Department of Sociology, Phillips Hall 409, 801 22
nd
St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20052.
charisk@gwu.edu.
60 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
to some degree, on characteristics of the different types of mediums (Weitzer and Kubrin 2004).
Jeffres (1986) defines a medium as “any device that carries messages between people…but what
makes a medium a mass medium is its ability to carry messages not just from one person to
another but from one person to thousands or millions of others” (pg. 1). This study examines the
representation of crime stories in the mass media, in newspapers and television in particular, to
reveal how crime is characterized in the news. Using 71 matched pairs, we examine the
constructed elements in the reporting of crime stories between newspapers and local television to
document similarities and differences across mediums. Although considerable work has been
devoted to discerning differences in reporting across types of media (Barak 1994; Burton 2005;
Doyle 2003; Ericson, Baranek and Chan 1991; Jensen 1997; Schlesinger and Tumber 1994),
little research has investigated how the same crime story “gets told” in one medium compared to
another. With matched-pairs of stories, we are able to do this. In this study we also use content
analysis to examine, in detail, a subset of cases that focus on juveniles to ascertain how atypical
offenders and victims are portrayed in the media. Although youth are much less likely to commit
crimes and to be victimized compared to adults, their stories are disproportionately “the stuff of
news.”
The Social Construction of Crime in the Media
Reality is socially constructed, in large part, through the media, which provide a way for
dominant values in society to be articulated to the public. In particular, the news media
constitutes an arena for the powerful institutions of society to disseminate information to a large
audience. Gramsci (1971) argues that ‘media hegemony’ refers to the dominance of a certain
way of life and how it is diffused through the public (see also Barak 1994:238-243). In other
words, “media systems tend to privilege the ideological perspective of the powerful—in
particular those of the holders of state power, exponents of establishment politics, and
representatives of major capitalist economic interests” (Schlesinger and Tumber 1994:7). The
news, therefore, favors some groups over others (e.g., affluent whites vs. poor inner-city blacks)
so media bias is not random (Barak 1994:4; Jensen 1997:27).
Lipschultz and Hilt (2002) suggest there are two levels to the social construction of
reality with regards to news media. At the first level, producers construct reality through the
bureaucratic decisions they make about which events to report and how they will report them
(Chermak 1997:711). In this process, biases are inevitable. “The process of gathering
information and deciding what’s news are the primary concerns of critics, who argue that there is
no way news can be ‘value-free’ because a series of value judgments have been imposed on the
event along the way” (Jeffres 1986:110). The second level suggests that viewers construct their
own reality based on how they understand and interpret the news. Not everyone receives and
processes news in the same way; audience characteristics and experiences can be influential. As
Weitzer and Kubrin (2004:499) claim, “The field of communication studies has increasingly
regarded the reception of media messages as a dynamic process in which viewers actively
interpret and perhaps reconstruct those messages in light of their personal backgrounds and
experiences.” The social construction of reality thus begins when the producer decides what
story to cover and continues all the way to the consumer’s living room, where social reality is
(re)constructed.
61 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
If the media construct a general sense of reality, they also construct a reality of crime. In
fact, the media are “among the most important agents in the diffusion of criminal conceptions.
Crime coverage in the newspapers [and] television affects a person’s estimate of the frequency of
crime as well as the interpretations that he attaches to crime” (Quinney 1970:281; see also Miller
Potter 2005). In fact, over 75 percent of the public claim they form their opinions about crime
from what they see or read in the news, which is more than three times the number who say they
get their primary information on crime from personal experience (22 percent) (ABC News 1996).
The language used in a news report is critical in constructing the consumer’s reality and
perception of crime. Relating the framing of language to the social construction of reality, Loge
(2005) uses the metaphor of a camera stating that “the same photograph of the same scene looks
different depending on the filter used on the camera. And, of course, just as the camera lens and
filter include information, they also exclude information; one cannot see what is outside the
camera frame or see the photograph in a different light. Language, therefore, is both a reflection
and a deflection of reality” (pg. 695). The language used in a newscast or in the newspaper, the
information that is included and the facts that are omitted, greatly influence how the public
perceives crime.
Jewkes (2004:40) describes how crime stories become newsworthy by focusing on
several news values specific to crime including the level of predictability of the crime (or how
common or uncommon the crime is), risk (or the sense that consumers may be at risk of similar
victimization), whether the crime has a sexual aspect to it, whether the offender or victim is a
celebrity or high-status person, whether the crime occurred locally, the level of violence, the
presence of spectacle or graphic imagery, and whether youth are involved, among others. The
extent to which a story contains these elements influences the likelihood that it will be reported.
Of course “a story does not have to conform to all the criteria in order to make the news –
although events that score highly on the newsworthiness scale (that is, conform to several of the
news values) are more likely to be reported” (Jewkes 2004:40). Crime news values can change
over time.
Ultimately, the discussion of news values for both general and crime news focuses on the
idea that dominant values are placed on the audience and that these ideals inform the selection
and construction of specific stories into news (Burton 2005). This study is not concerned with
where these values stem from, but rather how they shape the stories produced by the media.
Crime Reporting in the Media
No matter the country, the day, or the time, “crime is an important news topic” (Chermak
1994:95). According to one content analysis of six print and three broadcast media organizations,
“print media present nine crime stories a day, on average, and electronic media four crime stories
per day” (Chermak 1997:711). Despite potential differences across mediums, there are general
ways the media portray crime. Ultimately, decisions the media make typically create a distorted
view of reality held by the public, one that differs in many ways from reality (Sacco 1995:143).
According to Reiner, Livingston and Allen (2003), the portrayal of crime in the media compared
to official crime statistics is referred to as the “law of opposites,” meaning that “the
characteristics of crime, criminals, and victims represented in the media are in most respects the
polar opposite of the pattern suggested by official crime statistics or by crime and victim
62 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
surveys” (pg. 15). There are several dimensions of crime stories to which the law of opposites
applies.
Prevalence and Content of Crime Stories
Since the Second World War, an increasing proportion of news stories have focused on
crime. And the last two decades, in particular, have witnessed a redefinition of what is
considered an appropriate subject for crime news reporting. “Changes in mores relating to public
discussion of sex and violence have allowed respectable media outlets to report crimes that
would have previously been seen as taboo and to do so at a level of detail that would once have
been considered lurid” (Sacco 1995:145). Nowhere is the law of opposites more applicable than
with respect to the types of crimes reported in the media. Official crime statistics indicate that
most crime is nonviolent yet the news media suggests just the opposite (Chermak 1997:696;
Garofalo 1981; Schlesinger, Tumber and Murdock 1991), often creating the perception of an
“epidemic of random violence” (Sacco 1995:142). “About two-thirds of crime news stories are
primarily about violent or sex offenses, but these account for less than ten percent of crimes
recorded by the police” (Reiner, Livingstone and Allen 2003:18-9). A study by Sheley and
Ashkins (1981) found that a St. Louis newspaper gave “crimes against the person” thirty five
times more attention than property crimes, and murder ninety times more coverage than other
major offenses. At the same time, attention to property crimes in the news has declined “unless
they involve celebrities or some highly quirky features” (Reiner, Livingstone and Allen
2003:19), yet property offenses constitute over 90 percent of crimes recorded by the police.
Offenders and Victims
Many news sources give little information about criminal offenders but when they do,
they are typically older than in actual crime reports (Lotz 1991; Reiner, Livingstone and Allen
2003; Sacco 1995). In the media, the majority of reported offenders are between the ages of 20
and 40, yet according to official statistics “more than 40 percent of convicted or cautioned
offenders are under 21” (Reiner, Livingstone and Allen 2003:20). An increasing trend, however,
has been the reporting of crimes, particularly violent crimes, by juveniles (Dorfman et al. 1997;
Perrone and Chesney-Lind 1997). A meta-analysis of 77 studies that examined crime news
reports found that when youth appear in the news, it is often connected to violence. “Relatively
few youth are arrested each year for violent crimes, yet the message from the news is that this is
a common occurrence” (Dorfman and Schiraldi 2001:17). One analysis examining 840
newspaper reports and 109 news segments documented that 40 percent of all newspaper articles
on children were about violence, as were 48 percent of television news stories (Kunkel 1994).
On the other hand, evidence indicates that youth victims receive much less attention than youth
offenders (Dorfman and Schiraldi 2001:22).
As might be expected, the media depict a large proportion of offenders as racial and
ethnic minorities, even though a much smaller percentage are involved in the criminal justice
system (Reiner, Livingstone, and Allen 2003). Minorities, therefore, are overrepresented as
offenders in the news (Barlow 1998; Gilliam and Iyengar 2000). Research by Entman (1990,
1992, 1994) finds that in television news stories, black (compared to white) suspects are less
likely to be identified by name, are not as well dressed, and are more likely to be shown
physically restrained. Yet while blacks are overrepresented as offenders, they are typically
underrepresented as victims in the news (Weiss and Chermak 1998; Pritchard and Hughes 1997).
63 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
One study found that newsworthiness increases when the victim of a crime is white and another
found that homicides with white victims resulted in more and longer articles than homicides with
black victims. The media and official statistics are in agreement on one aspect of criminal
offenders: they are more often males (Reiner, Livingstone and Allen 2003; Sacco 1995:143).
Regardless of race, a general problem with the portrayal of victims in crime news stories
has to do with what Sacco (1995:149) refers to as “the random character of victimization,” or the
media’s tendency to imply that anyone at anytime may fall victim to crime. He notes, “While the
best social science literature indicates that the risks of crime…are not equally shared, media
images often convey a different message” (pg. 149). The random character of victimization is
underscored to increase the dramatic value of a story.
As the preceding discussion indicates, the news media does not reflect actual crime
statistics on several dimensions. The previously mentioned meta-analysis concluded, “Overall,
the studies taken together indicate that depictions of crime in the news are not reflective of either
the rate of crime generally, the proportion of crime which is violent, the proportion of crime
committed by people of color, or the proportion of crime committed by youth” (Dorfman and
Schiraldi 2001:7). While much of this discussion applies to the reporting of crime in all types of
media, it is also the case that mediums differ in various ways regarding the construction of crime
news. Comparing newspapers and local television news, we highlight these differences below
and argue that such differences have potential implications for the construction of the social
reality of crime.
Crime Reporting Differences in Newspaper and Television
The news media allow for private events, or individual crimes, to become public
concerns. “The news media, in particular, provide an important forum in which private troubles
are selectively gathered up, invested with broader meaning, and made available for public
consumption” (Sacco 1995:142). This study determines whether these “private turned public”
events are in fact represented differently depending on the medium in which they are reported.
There are numerous reasons to believe that differences in representation exist depending on
whether the crime story is written-up in a newspaper or broadcast on local television news.
Doyle (2003) describes television as a “shared arena.” Unlike newspapers, television
allows for a wider and more diverse audience. Since it requires a less specialized skill from
viewers in decoding and understanding, the audience has a more passive role when it comes to
television news; viewers sit and watch, without a choice as to what is covered, taking in
information they are given as truth (Doyle 2003:14-15). As for newspapers, readers make more
choices regarding which stories they will focus on, thereby playing a more active role in their
news consumption.
Newspapers are completely visual. Headlines and pictures attract the reader and both are
designed to catch the eye. Television, on the other hand, is based on sound as well as sight, thus
appealing to numerous senses (Jeffres 1986:5). The notion of graphic imagery, a crime news
value previously mentioned, is of higher importance for television news. While newspapers can
include black and white pictures, a streaming color video from the news station adds more
sensation to one’s consumption. In particular, “seeing something on television may have a much
64 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
stronger emotive impact than…reading about it in the newspaper” (Weitzer and Kubrin
2004:501).
With regards to emotion, newspapers focus on ideas whereas television emphasizes
“feeling, appearance, mood…there is a retreat from distant analysis and a dive into emotional
and sensory involvement” (Doyle 2003:15). Television takes already formed cultural stereotypes
and uses them to its advantage, tapping into human emotions. For example, the belief that
juvenile offenders are becoming increasingly violent is often used. Because of this stereotype, a
story that involves a youth offender will receive greater attention in the news.
Another major difference between newspapers and television is that newspapers use
space to get their message across whereas television uses time. Television values timeliness more
than newspapers because of the short amount of time available for a given program or news
segment. In essence, “broadcasters emphasize events that occur within a given day and highly
value those occurring within the most recent few hours while daily newspaper journalists deal
with material that appears as ‘yesterday’s news’” (Jeffres 1986:109).
In addition to these differences, newspapers and television are distinct in terms of the
organization and production of content. There are differences between the mediums “where most
of the ‘media work’ is accomplished” (Jeffres 1986:86). Actual news makes up a large
percentage of the content in newspapers whereas for a television station, news constitutes only a
small portion of the coverage. Moreover, pressure for ratings and internal competition is much
greater for television than newspapers (Weitzer and Kubrin 2004). Internal competition reflects
the reality that there are several local television stations compared to typically one major
newspaper in a city. Thus, a heavy reliance on ratings and competition among local news
channels can “lead to a greater stress on marketable, shocking news in television” (Weitzer and
Kubrin 2004:501).
In sum, television and newspapers are not identical media sources, in large part because
they have different “structuring agents” (Ericson, Baranek, and Chan 1991), or ways in which
information is presented. Before news even becomes available for public consumption, the
mediums start on different playing fields. All in all, newspapers have a relatively limited arena or
readership, have space as their “structuring agent,” produce only news, do not rely heavily on
technology for production, and have a distance barrier to overcome. On the other hand, television
has a much larger and more diverse audience, produces more than just news broadcasts, relies
heavily on technology for production, uses time as its “structuring agent,” and has the feel of
being much closer to the audience. We argue that these differences are likely to influence the
content and nature of crime news reporting, resulting in the finding that the same crime story will
be presented somewhat differently in newspapers and television.
The Current Study
The current study focuses on the representation of crime stories in newspapers and
television to compare similarities and differences in the reporting of events across mediums. In
this study we also examine a subset of cases that focus specifically on juveniles to ascertain how
atypical offenders and victims are represented in the news. In our analysis, we adopt the
framework advanced by Singletary and Lipsky (1977) that focuses on the nature of errors present
65 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
in a news story. Singletary and Lipsky (1977) classify reporting errors as “objective” or
“subjective,” where objective reflects the factual characteristics of a story and subjective reflects
the interpretive aspects of the report. Here we use a modified version of this framework that
accounts for the inclusion and/or omission of objective versus subjective story characteristics or
facts. Specifically, objective facts are the indisputable facts of the crime, some of which are
essential for understanding what happened and some of which are not essential but tend to be
reported to provide greater detail about the course of events. Subjective facts, on the other hand,
include the unnecessary aspects of the story that more often than not add a layer of bias. Further
discussion of objective and subjective facts is provided in the methods section.
Using this framework, we address three research questions: First, what type of
information about crime is provided to consumers in both newspapers and television? Are
objective or subjective facts most common? And to what extent do crime news stories reflect the
“law of opposites,” where the focus of attention is on uncharacteristic crimes/offenders/victims?
Second, do differences in reporting exist across newspapers and television? Given differences
between these mediums, will newspapers and television report in different frequencies objective
and subjective facts for the same given story? And third, how do portrayals of juvenile offenders
and victims—unusual candidates for news stories according to official statistics—vary in
newspaper and television news? Are differences in reporting and the types of “facts” presented
diminished in such cases?
Methods
From October 19
th
through December 2
nd
2005 we collected crime stories from the
Washington Post and the 11o’clock local television news on the Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate.
We define a crime story as “a program segment which features one or more acts of breaking the
law as central to the narrative” (Grabe 1999:38). Each day during this period we read the Post
and clipped crime stories from the first section (coverage of national, international, and a small
number of local stories) and Metro section (complete coverage of the local news). At 11:00 pm
each night, we recorded the local television news. The following day, all crime reports were
transcribed.
In order to be in the sample, a crime story had to be included in both mediums. If the
television news covered a murder in Northeast D.C. but it was not covered in the Washington
Post either the next or the following day, then the story was not included in the sample. Over the
study period, we collected and coded 71 crime stories resulting in our sample of matched pairs.
In this study, a “matched pair” consists of two news reports of the same crime, one from
television and the other from the newspaper. With matched pairs, we are able to determine
whether, and to what extent, crime stories are reported differently across mediums. It is
important to note that the unit of analysis for this study is the report of a crime story, not the
crime itself. In other words, our sample consists of 71 matched crime reports, some of which
include reports of the same crime over a period of time. In this sense, some crime stories are
presented multiple times in both mediums given repeated reports on these events.
We selected the Washington Post because it is the most highly circulated newspaper in
the D.C. metropolitan area. The local ABC station was randomly chosen between ABC, NBC,
CBS, and FOX stations. The 11 o’clock news was coded because there is little, if any, coverage
66 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
of traffic, which constitutes a large portion of the morning and evening news. Without traffic
included, there was the likelihood that more crime stories could be reported. Also, by 11:00 pm
most crimes for the day have occurred and could be reported on.
All television recordings were transcribed word for word to determine the precise word
count. After crime reports from both mediums were matched and the television news was
transcribed, we read the stories line by line and, using SPSS, coded them “on what was
portrayed, reported, suggested or implied in the context” (Grabe 1999:38). We coded a variety of
variables: Date case reported, List of crimes that occurred (e.g. murder, sexual assault, robbery),
Most serious crime type (1 = violent, 2 = property, 3 = drug, 4 = other), multiple crimes (0 = no,
1 = yes, 99 = missing), multiple offenders (0 = no, 1 = yes, 99 = missing), multiple victims (0 =
no, 1 = yes, 99 = missing), Is crime story part of a string of crimes (0 = no, 1 = yes, 99 =
missing), Did the crime occur in DC (0 = no, 1 = yes, 99 = missing), DC quadrant of crime (1 =
NW, 2 = NE, 3 = SW, 4 = SE, 5 = Did not occur in DC, 99 = missing), State crime occurred in
(0 = Washington DC, 1 = Virginia, 2 = Maryland, 3 = Florida, 4 = California, 5 = Washington
State, 6 = Massachusetts, 7 = Tennessee, 8 = Pennsylvania, 99 = missing), aggravating
circumstances (0 = no, 1 = yes, 99 = missing), List of aggravating circumstances (e.g., police
involved shooting, offender is female, victim is a child), Number of offenders, Number of
victims, Race of offender reported (1 = White, 2 = Black, 3 = Hispanic, 4 = Asian, 5 = Other, 6 =
No Race Reported, 99 = missing), Race of offender implied (1 = White, 2 = Black, 3 = Hispanic,
4 = Asian, 5 = Other, 6 = No Race Implied, 99 = missing), Age of offender, Sex of offender (0 =
male, 1 = female, 99 = missing), Race of victim reported (same coding as offender), Race of
victim implied (same coding as offender), Age of victim, Sex of victim (same coding as offender),
Victim/offender relationship (1 = Family Intimate, 2 = Family Nonintimate, 3 =
Friend/Acquaintance Intimate, 4 = Friend/Acquaintance Nonintimate, 5 = Strangers, 99 =
missing), Word count, Was the story a lead story (0 = no, 1 = yes).
These variables were coded twice for each crime story—once for the television report
and once for the newspaper report. For all race variables, no race reported or implied means that
the offender or victim was mentioned in the article, yet no race was explicitly mentioned
(reported) or shown through pictures (implied). A variable coded as “missing” indicates that the
article made no mention of that factor. For example, if the police had no suspects, therefore
having no offender to assign characteristics to, then the reported race, implied race, sex, and
victim/offender relationship, among other factors, all would be reported as “missing.”
As noted above, in line with Singletary and Lipsky (1977), this study adopts the terms
“objective” and “subjective” with slightly modified definitions. Again, an objective fact is an
indisputable and unbiased aspect of a news story. Some objective facts are essential for
understanding the story while others are not equally essential. In the latter case, without these
facts the audience can still comprehend what happened however they provide another layer of
coverage, supplementing the essential facts. Regardless, the media cannot skew this information,
unlike with subjective facts; the offender can either be male or female, there can only be one
time the crime occurred, and the victim can only be one age. Most important, however, is that
objective facts minimize personal bias or judgment in the report. For example, reporting the
offender’s race, which provides additional meaning to the story in a manner similar to the
reporting of offender age or sex, is often an unnecessary element of the story that mostly serves
67 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
to reinforce existing stereotypes of race and crime. Thus, offender race is considered subjective
rather than objective. The variables that fit under the objective heading are: most serious crime
type, state crime occurred in, time crime occurred, sex of offender, sex of victim, age of offender
and age of victim.
Subjective facts refer to aspects of a news report that are unnecessary for a complete
understanding of what happened and that can often introduce bias into the report. While some are
also indisputable like objective facts, they are all of little consequence to the audience’s general
understanding of the events that occurred. In other words, as the term suggests, these facts are
typically included to enhance the subjectivity or newsworthiness of a particular story. These are
the facts that can perpetuate stereotypes and myths regarding crime in our society. Of the
variables in this study, are there aggravating circumstances, race of offender reported, race of
offender implied, race of victim reported, race of victim implied, and victim/offender relationship
are considered subjective facts. We categorized these as subjective facts because not only are
they less central to the story, they allow for the possibility of bias.
Our analysis of the matched pairs examines the content of crime stories in the news
generally but also attempts to distinguish differences across mediums. Stories could differ either
in the specific information that is reported in both mediums or in what is excluded in the
accounts. The crime stories where the mediums differed on information are referred to as
Unmatched Cases. For example, if there is a case where the television news reported the race of
the offender as White whereas the newspaper either did not report a race or reported a different
race, then there is an Unmatched Case for that variable. We supplement the statistical analysis
with a content analysis of the stories to more thoroughly explore the nature of crime news
reporting, as well as any differences that may exist across the mediums. In particular, we focus
on the representation of juveniles as offenders and victims.
Results
During the course of coding, 71 matched pairs were collected. Some of the crimes
included the assault of a well-known rapper, the accidental shooting of a young woman at a high
school football game, the abuse of an infant by his foster mother, the sentencing of a man who
knowingly spread HIV to his sexual partners, the notorious “cell-phone bandit, a local mall
stabbing, the murder of a newborn baby, and a car chase that spanned from Northern Virginia to
Maryland, among others.
It is important to note there were several instances when crimes were reported in one
medium but not the other (and thus were excluded from our sample). Although we did not
systematically collect information on these cases, we note several observations about such
stories. First, there were more examples of crime stories reported in the local television news that
were not reported in the newspaper. Most of these involved updates about crimes previously
reported on but many of them were about new crimes that were almost always violent in nature,
such as bank robberies or shootings in the District and metro area. In other words, these were
common violent crimes without particularly dramatic elements that the television news briefly
reported on but the newspaper did not consider newsworthy enough to devote attention to.
Second, although there were fewer stories presented in the newspaper that were not reported on
local television news, the unmatched newspaper reports were typically not about violent crimes
68 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
but often were reports about white-collar or political crimes in the area. This is not surprising
given the location in which this study took place and because the Washington Post is considered
one of the nation’s top political newspapers. Finally, regardless of which medium reported a
story and which didn’t, on the whole, the excluded cases were much less sensationalistic than the
cases included in the study.
In this section we present results that follow the objective and subjective framework.
Each category of facts consists of two elements: (1) a reporting of the facts (yes or no), and (2) a
comparison of the crime stories in which the fact was reported by both mediums. The first will
determine whether or not the mediums differ in the reporting of specific facts, thereby addressing
the question: will the television and newspaper report the same crime differently? The second
will determine how the mediums differ when they both present the same fact, thereby addressing
the question: will there be differences in the story between the mediums based on objective and
subjective facts? The additional research question on the representation of youthful offenders and
victims will be addressed in the qualitative analysis of cases where youth were involved.
Objective Facts
Table 1 displays the frequencies of objective facts for both newspaper and television
reports. Of the 71 matched stories, both mediums identically reported the most serious crime
type and the state the crime occurred in. Both mediums nearly identically reported two other
objective facts: offender and victim sex. On the other hand, offender and victim age were less
likely to be equally reported across the mediums, although there is still general consistency. This
suggests that objective facts are reported similarly in newspaper and local television news.
Table 1: Frequencies and Percentages of Objective Facts for Newspaper and Local
Television News Reports (N = 71)
Frequency
for
Newspaper
Percentage for
Newspaper
Frequency
for
Television
Percentage
for Television
Most Serious
Crime Type
Reported?
Yes
71
100.00
71
100.00
State Reported?
Yes
70
98.6
70
98.6
Offender Sex
Reported?
Yes
51
71.8
52
73.2
Victim Sex
Reported?
Yes
55
77.5
51
71.8
Offender Age
Reported?
Yes
42
59.2
34
47.9
Victim Age
Reported?
Yes
40
56.3
27
38.0
This finding is further supported in Table 2, which displays crosstabs for the most serious
crime type reported—violent, property, drug or other. Table 2 shows that the newspaper reported
a violent crime in 61 cases, a property crime in 7 cases, and an “other” crime in 3 cases. The
69 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
same was true for television news. Cross-tabs on the state in which the crime occurred (not
shown here) also matched identically in terms of both mediums reporting the same states.
Table 2: Cross-tabulation for Most Serious Crime Type Newspaper by Most Serious Crime
Type Television (N = 71)
Most Serious Crime Type
Television
Violent
Property
Drug
Other
Total
Violent
61
61
Property
7
7
Drug
0
Other
3
3
Most
Serious
Crime
Type
Newspaper
Total
61
7
0
3
71
While cross-tabs for offender age and victim age (not shown here) do indicate minor
discrepancies across mediums, the unmatched cases are only slightly different. Of the 32 cases
where offender age was reported in both mediums, only 2 matched pairs differed with regards to
the age given. In one case, which involved a Tennessee school shooting, the television reported
the offender’s age as 15 whereas the newspaper stated the offender was 14 (ABC News Nov. 9,
2005; Washington Post Nov. 9, 2005). In another case, which focused on the attack of a high
school teacher by a student, the television reported the offender as 16 whereas the newspaper
reported him as 15 (ABC News Oct. 19, 2005; Washington Post Oct. 21, 2005). Similar minor
discrepancies were found with respect to victim age. Thus, as expected, television and newspaper
reports do not differ when presenting objective facts.
Apart from this, it is interesting to note that 61 of the 71 reports were for violent crimes,
despite their statistical rarity (relative to property and drug offenses) in official statistics. In other
words, the “law of opposites” clearly operates with respect to the type of crimes reported in the
media. This was true for both newspaper and local television news. The finding that violent
crime is over-represented in the news is in line with existing research (Chermak 1997:696;
Dorfman and Schiraldi 2001; Reiner, Livingstone and Allen 2003).
Subjective Facts
Table 3 shows the frequencies for subjective facts in newspaper and television reports. As
shown, subjective facts are presented at a much lower frequency than objective facts. For
example, offender and victim race are reported less than 10 percent of the time regardless of
medium and both mediums imply victim and offender race less than 27 percent of the time. Two
other subjective facts—victim/offender relationship and aggravating circumstances—are
reported at higher frequencies. Given that subjective facts are less critical for understanding what
happened, it is not surprising they receive less attention in the news. Still, newspapers and local
television news do provide this additional information, some of which is unnecessary and can
perpetuate stereotypes.
70 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Table 3: Frequencies and Percentages of Subjective Facts for Newspaper and Local
Television News Reports (N = 71)
Frequency
for
Newspaper
Percentage for
Newspaper
Frequency
for
Television
Percentage
for Television
Offender Race
Reported?
Yes
7
9.9
3
4.2
Offender Race
Implied?
Yes
14
19.7
19
26.8
Victim Race
Reported?
Yes
1
1.4
2
2.8
Victim Race
Implied?
Yes
7
9.9
8
11.3
Victim/Offender
Relationship
Reported?
Yes
60
84.5
60
84.5
Aggravating
Circumstances?
Yes
29
40.8
29
40.8
Table 3 also indicates that the frequency of reporting of at least some subjective facts
does vary by medium. For instance, offender race is more frequently reported in the newspaper
yet it is more frequently implied in the television news (typically through pictures shown during
the segment). While these differences are not large, it is important to remember that the mediums
are reporting on the exact same crime story.
Tables 4a and 4b display the cross-tabulations for offender race reported and offender
race implied. These tables indicate the unmatched cases with respect to these variables. As
shown, in those cases where subjective facts are reported in both newspapers and local television
news, there is a large difference across mediums, specifically in terms of offender’s implied race.
Table 4a: Cross-tabulation for Race of Offender Reported Newspaper by Race of Offender
Reported Television (N = 71; N.R.R. = No Race Reported)
Race Of Offender Reported
Television
White
Black
Hispanic
Asian
Other
N.R.R.
Total
White
1
1
Black
1
1
2
Hispanic
1
3
4
Asian
Other
N.R.R.
1
43
44
Race Of Offender
Reported
Newspaper
Total
2
1
48
51
71 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Table 4b: Cross-tabulation for Race of Offender Implied Newspaper by Race of Offender
Implied Television (N = 71; N.R.I. = No Race Implied)
Race of Offender Implied
Television
White
Black
Hispanic
Asian
Other
N.R.I.
Total
White
1
1
Black
2
3
5
Hispanic
6
6
Asian
Other
1
1
2
N.R.I.
4
3
2
28
37
Race of
Offender
Implied
Newspaper
Total
5
5
8
1
32
51
According to Table 4a, of the 51 paired cases in which an offender was known by the
police or made reference to in the report that enabled a race category to be determined, only 45
reports were the same across mediums; a Black offender in one matched pair, an Hispanic
offender in one matched pair, and no race reported in 43 matched pairs. However, of greater
interest are the six unmatched cases; one White, one Black, and three Hispanic offenders were
reported in the newspaper whereas no race was reported on the television news. On the other
hand, one Black offender was reported on the television news while the newspaper reported no
race in this case.
Table 4b indicates that the mediums also differ on implied offender race for the same
crime story. There were three cases in which the newspaper implied the offender was Black and
one case in which an “other” race was implied, while the television news did not imply a race for
either. On the other hand, there were four cases in which the television news implied the
offender’s race as White, three cases as Black, and two as Hispanic yet in each of these cases,
offender race was not implied in the newspaper.
Of the four cases in which the television reports implied the race of the offender as
White, all were crimes that occurred outside of Washington, D.C. Three of these cases involved
a crime in Pennsylvania and one was a sexual assault in Florida. Thus, instead of focusing on
local crimes, the television news chose to concentrate on national stories with white offenders. It
is also important to note that the cases where the television implied the offender race and the
newspaper did not were either extremely violent in nature or involved a minor. These cases
include three kidnappings of a minor, two sexual assaults, three murders, and leaving a 4-year
72 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
old on the side of a busy interstate. Conversely, the cases in which the offender’s race was
implied in the newspaper involved property crimes and in one case, a murder suspect being
released due to lack of evidence. This suggests that television reports tend to imply offender race
when a crime is particularly heinous whereas newspaper reports are more likely to imply
offender race in victimless crimes or in cases where the offender is portrayed in a favorable light.
Regardless, there is a discrepancy between the mediums as to which crimes warrant the race of
the offender being implied.
Analysis of Juvenile Offenders and Victims
Given our major finding that crime news reporting follows the “law of opposites,” to
further investigate this phenomenon, in additional analysis we elected to focus specifically on the
reporting of crimes by and against juveniles—atypical offenders and victims. By focusing on
youth in particular, we are able to more closely examine how the media construct and perpetuate
the “law of opposites” in both television and newspaper reporting, and we can determine whether
differences emerge based on the medium. Despite how infrequently they are involved in crime as
either offenders or victims, juveniles constitute a central focus of crime news reporting. This
section describes how these offenders and victims are portrayed in the media. We move beyond
the objective/subjective framework to a more detailed content analysis of reports with juvenile
offenders or victims. We selected out those matched pairs where a juvenile was identified as
either a victim or perpetrator in the story (n=27). As these crimes are newsworthy, we were not
surprised to find that 38 percent of our sample involved youth. Despite this, one must keep in
mind, once again, that juveniles are much less likely to be either victims or offenders.
Concerning the latter, almost 90 percent of crimes cleared by arrest are committed by adults
(Snyder and Sickmund 1999). Thus, juveniles were overrepresented in our sample. Moreover,
every case in our sample with a juvenile offender involved a violent crime, supporting Dorfman
and Schiraldi’s (2001) conclusion that “news involving youth is violent” (pg. 17).
Commonalities between Mediums
Newspaper and television reports depict crimes with juvenile offenders and victims in
some similar ways. We identified four common themes in the reports: (1) juvenile offenders and
their offenses are portrayed as irrational, (2) crimes committed by juveniles are linked to other
crimes in the past, creating the appearance of a “youth crime wave,” (3) juvenile victims are
presented as innocent and blameless, and (4) there is an obsession with safety and security
following incidents involving juveniles. We discuss each of these in turn.
More often than not crimes committed by juveniles are portrayed in the news as
irrational, unexplainable and senseless. This characterization of crime as random and
inexplicable is common in most crime reporting (Surette 1994;1998) but we found it especially
characteristic of crimes committed by youth. For example, in one murder case, both mediums
describe the offender’s motive as due to his anger because marijuana supplies he had ordered
were mistakenly delivered to the victim’s home (ABC News Oct. 20, 2005; Washington Post
Oct. 21, 2005). In another case, the report mentions “there is no clear motive for the attack but
some kids here at the school say the student may have been upset over a failing grade he received
from that teacher” (ABC News Oct. 19, 2005). In a third case involving a youth offender who
killed his girlfriend’s parents, the newspaper reports, “Ludwig confessed to the killings saying he
shot Borden’s parents after her father told Ludwig to stop seeing her…Ludwig said he shot
73 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Michael Borden in the back as he was going down the hall to the front door and then headed
toward Cathryn Borden. ‘I shot Mom as she was sitting in the chair…It was an intentional
murder. I intended to shoot them, and I did’” (Washington Post Nov. 22, 2005). These examples,
which represent typical juvenile offenses in our sample, underscore the irrational nature of
violence committed by youth. For most, a wrong delivery, a failing grade, and a parent’s
disapproval do not warrant a violent response. Such examples create the perception that youth
today act senselessly and without remorse. In reality, however, crimes of this nature are
extremely rare—especially among juveniles—highlighting, once again, how the “law of
opposites” is central to news reporting. This is true regardless of medium.
Another common theme in the reporting of youth offender cases involves the linking of
the crime under question to related crimes in the recent past. In other words, in many cases the
story’s focus extends beyond the current crime to incorporate broader crime trends either in the
area or over time. The result is the media construction of a “youth crime wave” (see Fishman
1978). For example, one case entailed a large number of juvenile offenders arrested on
carjacking and robbery charges. After briefly describing what happened, the television newscast
turned its attention to related incidents involving these and other youth. The newscaster reports,
“Some of the alleged carjackers are also charged with the rash of street robberies in Adams
Morgan and Columbia Heights” (ABC News Nov. 15, 2005). The focus of the story then shifts
yet again to linking all these offenses to even broader crime trends in the area. The newspaper
notes, “Robberies, especially carjackings, are a vexing public safety problem in the county.
There were more carjackings in Prince George’s last year than in the rest of Maryland’s
communities combined…Prince George’s police created a carjacking unit at the beginning of
this year to tackle the problem. Last year, 563 carjackings occurred in Prince George’s; there
were 492 in the rest of the state” (Washington Post Nov. 16, 2005).
In one rape case, the entire focus of the story involves the possible linking of the offender
to other sexual assaults in the area. The newspaper headline reads “Fairfax Teen Charged with
Rape” with a subheading of “Police Seek to Link Him to 3 Other Attacks” (Washington Post
Nov. 5, 2005). After the short opening paragraphs that describe what happened, the remainder of
the article essentially deals with three other sexual assault cases in which the offender is
implicated (but not charged). The 3
rd
paragraph of the story leads off with, “Although Acosta is
charged in only one of the Dunn Loring attacks, ‘we think he is responsible for all four,’ said
officer Bud Walker, a police spokesman. ‘We fully expect him to be charged in the others,’
Walker added.” This story reported in the television news also underscores the offender’s
possible linkage to other crimes. The newscast opens with, “A teenager is under arrest tonight on
sexual assault charges and police say 18-year-old Michael Acosta could be the person
responsible for a series of attacks near the Dunn Loring metro stop” (ABC News Nov. 4, 2005).
In a third case involving a student who violently attacked his teacher, it is clear that the
story is reported, in large part, to raise broader concerns about rising trends in youth violence,
especially in schools. Highlighted in the beginning of the article is the fact that this incident
followed two school attacks from the previous week. Also underscored is the greater need to
“protect schools from intruders with deadly weapons,” following these incidents (Washington
Post Oct. 21, 2005). By the 4
th
paragraph, the story cites national trends in student violence
noting, “Nationwide, about 4 percent of schoolteachers reported that they were physically
74 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
attacked by a student during the 1999-2000 school year…” Several other national figures are
provided.
In each of these cases, the stories serve a larger function. While the facts are reported, of
greater interest are the connections that can be made between the offender and other crimes, the
offender and other offenders, and the crime and other crimes. In essence, these stories represent
“case studies” of larger crime problems in the area. By explicitly making these connections, the
media construct a reality that violence among youth is pervasive and that something must be
done.
Not surprisingly, we found that in the majority of youth victim cases that the victims
were presented as innocent and blameless individuals. Both mediums used several tactics to
heighten victim innocence including focusing on the extent of the victim’s injuries and
highlighting the victim’s positive attributes. Concerning the former, news reports of juvenile
victims typically give extensive listings of the injuries sustained by the victim as well as provide
detail about the nature of the injury. This characterization is more evident the younger in age the
victim. For example, in one case where a mother is accused of killing her newborn, the
newspaper states that the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and then continues to list
the extent of injuries sustained by the infant: “The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia,
blunt force, head injury, and environmental exposure” (Washington Post Dec. 1, 2005). Even
more detail is provided in another infant abuse case where it is reported that the mother admitted
“striking the infant with an open hand and dropped him six to seven times while changing him or
giving him a bath” (ABC News Oct. 27, 2005). The television newscaster lists the extensive
injuries: “consistent with shaken baby syndrome, brain hemorrhages, skull fracture, bleeding
from the eye, and bruises.” The newspaper report of this same story also notes that the “skull was
fractured” and there was “swelling to the brain” (Washington Post Oct. 29, 2005).
Another case in which a mother left her young son on the side of a busy highway
provides an example of how injury is emphasized when the victim is a juvenile. In this case,
almost the entire television news report focuses on the extent of injury: “Channoah Green faces
child endangerment charges for kicking her 4-year old son out of the car on busy 495 near route
50 in July” (ABC News Nov. 18, 2005). The story continues, “She’s also accused of hitting him
with her car as she drove away.” And also reported, “The trooper got emotional on the stand
today while recalling the blood he saw on the boy’s face when he arrived on the scene.” For this
same story, the newspaper report contained similar statements regarding injury: “Brown testified
that he pulled over and ran to the boy, who had a cut on his face. ‘I scooped him up…He was
pretty much hysterical, frantic” (Washington Post Nov. 19, 2005).
Another useful tactic for portraying victim innocence is to focus on the victim’s positive
attributes. The best example can be seen in the case of a teenager who was shot and killed.
Friends and relatives were quoted in several instances, each time for the purpose of portraying
the victim in a positive light. For example, the victim’s relatives called him “an upbeat 11
th
grader who had lots of friends and a sharp sense of humor” (Washington Post Dec. 1, 2005).
They are also quoted as saying “He dreamed of joining the military.” The victim’s sister states,
“He was fun-loving…He was just silly and goofy.” In other cases, victims are described as
hardworking focused youth with plans for the future: “an honor student who was in an
75 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
enrichment program to help her get into college” (Washington Post Nov. 17, 2005) and “she
excelled in a cosmetology class at school and hoped to work in a salon after graduation”
(Washington Post Nov. 8, 2005).
As these and other cases show, crimes involving youth victims are portrayed in a way
that creates sympathy for the victim. Unlike with adult victims, reports on youth victims are
disproportionately devoted to documenting and describing the various injuries sustained, as well
as creating the image that the victim is an innocent player. Of course crimes involving innocent
victims are newsworthy to begin with (see Chermak 1997:706) but the level of newsworthiness
increases even more when the victims are young.
As a final common theme, both mediums frequently discuss safety and security issues in
crimes involving juvenile victims or offenders. Attention to safety and security is heightened
when any aspect of the crime occurred at school or during a school-related event (e.g., football
games), or when the victim/offender is a student. Statements such as “The safe learning
environment has to be the first priority of any school system” (ABC News Nov. 3, 2005), “Anne
Arundel County officials said yesterday that they will reevaluate security measures at school
sports events” (Washington Post Oct. 30, 2005), Authorities also stepped up patrols near
Roosevelt High School and in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred” (Washington Post
Dec. 1, 2005), and “‘People are angered and saddened by this,’ said schools spokesman Phil
Kavits, noting that officials are taking steps to ensure the safety and well-being of students”
(Washington Post Nov. 10, 2005) all show the media’s pervasive focus on school safety.
While most reports stressed improving safety and security measures following a crime,
some centered on the lack of safety and security, which led to the events in the first place. One
newspaper report notes, The three attacks underscored a reality of campus security as police and
education officials seek to protect schools from intruders with deadly weapons: Sometimes,
students without knives or guns pose a significant threat to teachers and administrators”
(Washington Post Oct. 21, 2005). And in another case where a teacher is accused of raping a
student, the newscaster highlights how the school failed to investigate the teacher’s background
when he quotes a police officer who says, “When you’re somebody’s teacher, you’re placed in a
position of trust and educating kids and something like this happens, it’s very, very concerning”
(ABC News Nov. 3, 2005). The argument made here is that lax safety precautions by school
officials led to this unnecessary crime. This, in turn, results in a greater focus on the need for
tighter security. The “law and order” responses in these cases justify the need for additional
resources to crack down on crimes where juveniles are involved, a phenomenon that has been
documented previously with respect to drug crimes (Chermak 1997:706).
Differences across Mediums
As discussed above, both mediums are sensationalistic in portraying youth offenders and
victims. Yet, when one compares the same juvenile crime story in the local television news and
in newspapers, it becomes apparent that the mediums differ in how each sensationalizes the
story. Differences occur in (1) the use of quotes from witnesses or authority figures, (2) pictures
and live reporting, and (3) headlines and opening statements.
More so than newspapers, television reports use statements from witnesses or authority
76 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
figures (e.g., police or school officials) to provide a sense of realness to the event. This tactic
allows a seemingly rare occurrence to hit home with the audience. These statements instill a
sense of fear, a lack of security, or simply add a captivating element to the story. On the other
hand, newspapers use quotes from authority figures more to update facts or add additional
information to the case.
Examples of how television reports sensationalize crimes involving youth are prevalent:
“some parents are wondering, is their child safe?” (ABC News Oct. 19, 2005), “that brings back
the, you know, the look of horror on the child’s face that should never be on a 4-year-old’s face”
(ABC News Nov. 18, 2005), “I’m devastated to know that someone walked in to this school,
supposed to be protected by a police officer or several security officers in this building and walk
in and just go into a school and beat someone like that” (ABC News Oct. 19, 2005), “kinda
makes you wonder if this is really somewhere you want to raise a child” (ABC News Nov. 13,
2005). Statements from concerned parents such as “These people are with your children 8 hours
a day and you teach your children to respect authority figures and when this happens you have to
rethink what you’re teaching at home” (ABC News Nov. 3, 2005) take an otherwise uncommon
event and make it real. The result is the appearance that this crime could happen to anyone, could
take place anywhere, and more generally that “the world is a scary place” (Weitzer and Kubrin
2004:499).
Newspaper articles do not use witness and law enforcement statements in the same
manner as the television broadcasts. When quoting, the newspaper reports tend to include
statements that either update or add information to the case. For example, statements such as,
“This was not a stranger picking up a stranger on the side of the street. This was a preexisting
relationship that stemmed back to their ties in the District of Columbia” (Washington Post Nov.
23, 2005) and “After a careful analysis of the facts, we have concluded that there is insufficient
evidence at this time to go forward against the suspect” (Washington Post Nov. 8, 2005) report
facts and update the reader about specific elements of the case.
Another difference between newspaper and television reports on crimes involving
juveniles is the “theoretical” distance between the reporter and the crime scene, which in turn
affects the distance between the audience and the event. Television reporters are often on the
scene of the crime as “the story is unfolding” (ABC News Nov. 27, 2005) whereas newspaper
reporters disclose the information they receive via the Internet, phone calls, or interviews. Thus,
newspapers are more distant in their reporting compared to television.
Newspaper reporters, however, still have the ability to incorporate pictures related to the
event. Despite this, only three of the 27 articles included pictures, and one was a map showing
where the crime occurred. Moreover, only one of the three pictures was connected to a story
involving a juvenile victim. On the other hand, eight of the television reports were broadcast
“live and on the scene” and these stories almost always (7 of 8 times) involve a juvenile victim.
In these cases, the crimes consisted of the sexual assault of a young girl by her teacher, a young
child’s abduction, the severe abuse of an infant, the murder of a young girl, a high school
football shooting, a double stabbing of two teens, and a kidnapping of a 14-year old girl by her
older boyfriend. In each case, the television producers deem these crimes newsworthy enough to
send a reporter live to the scene. Television news thus sends the message to viewers that crimes
77 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
with juvenile victims deserve greater attention, that they are the most heinous and shocking, and
that there is universal sympathy for young victims.
Both mediums sensationalize juvenile crimes, whether the juvenile is an offender or
victim. However, television broadcasts dramatize opening statements more frequently and
overtly than do newspaper headlines, leading to a third difference between the mediums.
Newspaper headlines are typically more to the point and use few sensational words and
adjectives. On the other hand, television opening statements are longer, vivid, and embellished,
often with the intention of inducing fear. For instance, in one case, the newspaper headline read,
“Pr. George’s Teacher Charged With Rape” (Washington Post Nov. 4 2005) while for the same
story, the television newscaster started off his report by saying, “Pascal Brazey faces a long list
of charges after one of his former students accused the teacher of rape” (ABC News Nov. 3,
2005). This statement provides the same information as the newspaper headline, but also gives
the teacher’s full name, adds that he faces other charges in addition to rape, and most
importantly, adds that the victim is a student, tapping into a key news value. And in another case
that involved an accidental shooting at a football game, the newspaper headline read, “Teen
Spectator Wounded in Shooting at Arundel Football Game” (Washington Post Oct. 29, 2005).
The television report for this story opened with, “Tonight a high school football game ends with
gunfire and a teenage girl is shot” (ABC News Oct. 28, 2005). While this statement does not
provide more information than the newspaper headline, it does leave the audience wondering
whether the victim is alive or dead. The words “gunfire” and “teenage girl shot” do not
specifically describe the severity of injuries which, incidentally, were minor as noted by the
newspaper (e.g., wounded). In another case involving carjackings and robberies committed by
teens, the newspaper headline read “Teens Charged in D.C., Pr. George’s Carjackings,
Robberies” (Washington Post Nov. 16, 2005) whereas the opening statement from the television
news reporter was, “30 teenagers are under arrest tonight accused of robbing and carjacking at
least 90 people” (ABC News Nov. 15, 2005). Clearly the scope of the crimes is portrayed
differently in the two mediums. In one final story about a foster mother abusing her 6-week old
son, the newspaper headline simply stated: “Baby Injured” (Washington Post Oct. 29, 2005).
This is much less sensationalistic than the television reporter’s opening statement: “New and
only on 7 tonight, a newborn placed in a D.C. foster home is now fighting for his life after being
badly beaten and shaken” (ABC News Oct. 27, 2005).
Despite these differences, both mediums use headlines and opening statements to
captivate and intrigue their audience. Newspapers want their readers to continue reading so by
being vague in the title, the consumer must continue to read to get the “full” picture. Television
stations also want their viewers to continue watching but they encourage this by delivering a
shocking opening line: “A teen is murdered and his killers are on the loose tonight” (ABC News
Nov. 30, 2005); “A bike path in Reston is a crime scene tonight” (ABC News Nov. 13, 2005),
and “Tonight a high school football game ends with gunfire and a teenage girl is shot…Our
cameras were there and happened to be rolling during these frightening moments at Annapolis
High School where a teenage girl was struck by a bullet tonight” (ABC News Oct. 28, 2005).
These opening statements capture the viewer’s attention and increase the likelihood that they will
continue watching to find out what happened.
Discussion
78 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
This study has examined how crime is presented in newspapers and local television news,
and specifically, how crimes involving juveniles are portrayed. Concerning the former, we found
that objective facts, for the most part, are similarly reported across mediums. So basic facts about
any crime story do not differ depending upon which medium one consumes. On the other hand,
the presentation of subjective facts did differ between mediums, with six unmatched cases for the
reporting of offender race, 13 for offender race implied, and four for victim race implied. In
addition, offender and victim race were reported in some television broadcasts but not in the
newspaper articles and vice versa. Therefore, depending on which medium an individual
consults, one might receive a different impression regarding the race of the victim and offender.
Given preexisting stereotypes about race and crime, these differences might be significant and
have implications for beliefs, attitudes and opinions about crime (see Weitzer and Kubrin
2003:512-514).
Regardless, similar to previous research, we found that the ever-popular phrase, “If it
bleeds, it leads” applied in our study as well. According to our findings, for a crime to be
covered in the news, it typically had to be violent in nature; nearly 85 percent of the crimes
included in our sample were violent.
A content analysis of the crime reports involving juvenile victims and offenders yielded
several interesting findings. First, there were some common themes that emerged in both
mediums including the portrayal of juvenile offenses as senseless and irrational, the linking of
discrete crimes by youth for the purpose of creating a “juvenile crime wave,” the characterization
of juvenile victims as innocent, and a strong emphasis on safety and security following crimes
involving youth. These themes were pervasive in our sample of crime reports and did not vary
based on the medium in which the story was presented.
Although both newspaper and local television news emphasized dramatic crimes where
youth were involved, there were some differences in their reporting. By playing on the viewer’s
emotions, television reports attempt to instill a sense of fear in consumers and underscore the
lack of safety and security. They accomplished this through carefully crafted words and phrases
used by the news anchors, statements from witnesses and public officials, and live footage direct
from the scene. Whether the crime was a murder, a sexual assault, or a kidnapping, the television
news almost always managed to present the story with an additional layer of alarm. This same
level of fear was not created in the newspaper reports. Without visuals, witness statements, etc.,
newspapers are not likely to instill the same sense of fear in readers.
Although several studies have documented how crime is portrayed in the news and a few
specifically focus on juvenile offenders and victims, ours is unique in its approach. By using a
matched-pair study, we were able to directly compare the same crime event in two mediums. In
this way, the crime event is “controlled” and we are able to focus on differences in the
presentation of information. As indicated from our findings, there are in fact differences in how
the same crime story gets told.
Despite the study’s strengths, there are some limitations that warrant attention. Most
importantly, the findings are not necessarily generalizable, as they were collected from news
sources in one city over a short period of time. To get a more thorough understanding of the
79 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
construction of crime news across mediums, more news sources need to be incorporated,
including radio stations or Internet websites. Moreover, sampling more than one of each medium
will likely reveal that there are, in fact, differences within mediums in terms of reporting. For
instance, two newspapers may not present the same story in a similar manner, especially if one is
characterized as having a liberal slant while the other a more conservative approach. Along these
lines, the two news sources included in this study were of a slightly liberal nature, which affects
our ability to generalize to other news mediums not just nation-wide but in Washington D.C. as
well. At the same time, we are not concerned that the findings of this study are anomalous, in
large part because the conclusions reached are consistent with other studies on the topic.
As always, there is room for additional work in this area. Future studies might examine
how females and males are treated in the news media, as both victims and offenders. There were
some cases in our sample that had female offenders, but just a few. This suggests that only
certain types of crimes by females are included, which raises questions about identifying
newsworthy qualities that may be gender-specific. In addition, future research should investigate
similarities and differences in the reporting of national versus local crime stories within the
context of local news. Given that “news space is not a luxury” (Chermak 1997:705), important
decisions must be made about which national stories are so newsworthy that they may take the
place of an otherwise newsworthy local crime.
Whatever the focus, we encourage researchers to continue studying “crime in the news.”
This line of research is necessary to gain an understanding of how private crimes become public
concerns, in other words, to determine how the media construct “the social reality of crime”
(Quinney 1970) through these “private turned public” events. As Burton (2005) suggests, “it is
difficult to argue that news may be defined as anything other than ideological work. It brings us
versions of the world; it brings certain kinds of understandings of the world, and indeed of what
we refer to as truth and as reality.”
References
ABC News, Oct. 19, 2005
ABC News, Oct. 20, 2005.
ABC News, Oct. 27, 2005.
ABC News, Oct. 28, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 3, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 4, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 9, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 13, 2005.
80 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
ABC News, Nov. 13, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 15, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 18, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 27, 2005.
ABC News, Nov. 30, 2005.
ABC News. (1996) May. Republished on Public Agenda Online. http://www.publicagenda.com.
Barak, G.. (1994) Media, Process, and the Social Construction of Crime: Studies in
Newsmaking Criminology. New York: Garland Publishing.
Barlow, M.H. (1998) “Race and the Problem of Crime in Time and Newsweek Cover Stories,
1946-1995.” Social Justice 25:149-182.
Burton, G. (2005) Media and Society: Critical Perspectives. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Chermak, S. (1994) “Crime in the News Media: A Refined Understanding of How Crimes
Become News” Pp. 95-129 in Media, Process, and the Social Construction of Crime:
Studies in Newsmaking Criminology, edited by G. Barak. New York: Garland Publishing.
Chermak, S. (1997) “The Presentation of Drugs in the News Media: The News Sources Involved
in the Construction of Social Problems.” Justice Quarterly, 14, 687-718.
Dorfman, L., Woodruff, K., Chavez V., and Wallack, L.. (1997). Youth and violence on local
television news in California. American Journal of Public Health 87, 1311-1316.
Dorfman, L. and Schiraldi, V. (2001). Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News. Youth
Law Center, Washington D.C. www.buildingblocksforyouth.org.
Doyle, A. (2003) Arresting Images: Crime and Policing in Front of the Television Camera.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Entman, R. M. (1990) Modern racism and the images of Blacks in local television news. Critical
Studies in Mass Communication 7, 332-345.
Entman, R. M. (1992) Blacks in the news: Television, modern racism, and cultural change.
Journalism Quarterly 69, 341-361.
Entman, R. M. (1994) African Americans according to TV news. Media Studies Journal 8, 29-
38.
81 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Ericson, R. V., Baranek, P. M., Chan, J. B. L. (1991) Representing Order: Crime, Law, and
Justice in the News Media. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fishman, M. (1978) Crime waves as ideology. Social Problems 25, 531-543.
Garofalo, J. (1981) Crime and the mass media: A selective review of research. Journal of
Research in Crime and Delinquency 18, 319-350.
Gilliam, F.D., Iyengar, S. (2000) Prime suspects: The influence of local television news on the
viewing public.” American Journal of Political Science, 44, 560-573.
Grabe, M. E. (1999) Television news magazines and functionalism. Critical Studies in Mass
Communication, 16, 155-171.
Gramsci, A. (1971) Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
Jeffres, L. W. (1986) Mass Media: Processes and Effects. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
Jensen, C. (1997) 20 Years of Censored News. New York: Seven Stories Press.
Jewkes, Y. (2004) Media and Crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kellner, D. (1995) Cultural studies, multiculturalism and media culture. In Gail Dines and Jean
M. Humez (Eds.), Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text Reader. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage Publications.
Kunkel, D., (1994) How the news media ‘see’ kids. Media Studies Journal, 8, 74-84.
Lipschultz, J. H. and Hilt, M. L. (2002) Crime and Local Television News: Dramatic, Breaking,
and Live From the Scene. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Loge, P., (2005) How to talk crimey and influence people: Language and the politics of
criminal justice policy. Drake Law Review, 53, 693-709.
Lotz, R. E. (1991) Crime and the American Press. New York: Praeger.
Miller Potter, K. (2005) Capital crimes in the news: Emergent death ritual dramas. Eastern
Kentucky University.
Perrone, P.A., Chesney-Lind, M. (1997) Representations of gangs and delinquency: Wild in the
street? Social Justice, 24, 106-116.
Pritchard, D., Hughes, K. D. (1997) Patterns of deviance in crime news. Journal of
Communication, 47, 49-67.
Quinney, R. (1970) The Social Reality of Crime. Boston: Little Brown and Company.
82 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Reiner, R., Livingstone, S., Allen, J. (2003) From Law and Order to Lynch Mobs: Crime News
Since the Second World War” In P. Mason, (ed) Criminal Visions: Media
Representations of Crime and Justice, 13-32. Portland: Willan Publishing.
Sacco, V. F. (1995) Media constructions of crime.” Annals of the American Academy of the
Political and Social Sciences, 539, 141-154.
Schlesinger, P., Tumber, H. (1994) Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of Criminal Justice.
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Schlesinger, P., Tumber, H., Murdock, G. (1991) The media of politics, crime and criminal
justice. British Journal of Sociology, 42, 397-420.
Sheley, J. F. Ashkins, C. D. (1981) Crime, crime news, and crime views. Public Opinion
Quarterly 45, 492-506.
Singletary, M. W., Lipsky. R. (1977) Accuracy in local TV news. Journalism Quarterly, 54,
362-368.
Snyder, H. N., Sickmund, M. (1999) Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Washington, D.C.
Surette, R. (1994) Predator criminals as media icons. In Barak, G. (ed.), Media, Process, and
the Social Construction of Crime. 131-158. New York: Garland Publishing.
Surette, R. (1998) Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Washington Post, “Md. Student Is Accused of Bat Attack on Teacher.” Oct. 21, 2005.
Washington Post, “Teenager is Arrested in Slaying of Lawyer’s Wife.” Oct. 21, 2005.
Washington Post, “Baby Injured.” Oct. 29, 2005.
Washington Post, “Teen Spectator Wounded in Shooting at Arundel Football Game.” Oct. 29,
2005.
Washington Post, “After Shooting Arundel Will Check Security.” Oct. 30, 2005.
Washington Post, “Pr. George’s Teacher Charged With Rape.” Nov. 4, 2005.
Washington Post, “Fairfax Teen Charged With Rape.” Nov. 5, 2005.
Washington Post, “No Charges in Slaying of Girl, 16.” Nov. 8, 2005.
Washington Post, “Tennessee Youth Is Arrested in School Shootings.” Nov. 9, 2005.
83 / JCJPC 14(1), 2007
© 2007 School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14 (1), 2007.
Washington Post, “Va. Teacher is Charged With Assaulting Girl, 15.” Nov. 10, 2005.
Washington Post, “Teens Charged in D.C., Pr. George’s Carjackings, Robberies.” Nov. 16, 2005.
Washington Post, “Man Guilty in Drive-By Slaying of NE Girl, 15.” Nov. 17, 2005.
Washington Post, “Mother Spoke of Voices After Boy Left on Road.” Nov. 19, 2005.
Washington Post, “Prosecutors Say Girl Left Willingly With Boyfriend.” Nov. 22, 2005.
Washington Post, “Woman Charged in Md. Slaying.” Nov. 23, 2005.
Washington Post, “Student Accused of Killing Her Baby.” Dec. 1, 2005.
Washington Post, “District Teenager Is Shot, Killed.” Dec. 1, 2005.
Weiss, A., Chermak, S. M. (1998) The News Value of African American Victims: An
Examination of the Media’s Presentation of Homicide. Journal of Crime and Justice, 21,
71-88.
Weitzer, R., Kubrin, C. E.. (2004) Breaking News: How Local TV and Real World Conditions
Affect Fear of Crime. Justice Quarterly, 21, 497-520.
... News stories can also affect attitudes toward specific groups. In news media, an increasing amount of attention is given to crime stories (Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007), even though most forms of crime have decreased over the past decades (Windzio & Kleimann, 2009). Crime stories can lead to more negative attitudes toward specific groups who are overrepresented and frequently portrayed in the media as (potential) perpetrators (Arendt & Northup, 2015), such as juveniles (Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007) and immigrants (Windzio & Kleimann, 2009). ...
... In news media, an increasing amount of attention is given to crime stories (Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007), even though most forms of crime have decreased over the past decades (Windzio & Kleimann, 2009). Crime stories can lead to more negative attitudes toward specific groups who are overrepresented and frequently portrayed in the media as (potential) perpetrators (Arendt & Northup, 2015), such as juveniles (Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007) and immigrants (Windzio & Kleimann, 2009). The influence of media messages on attitudes and behaviors has been found in studies in English-speaking countries across the world, as well as countries in Latin America, Asia, and across Europe (Arendt & Northup, 2015;Callanan, 2012;Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007;Nellis & Savage, 2012;Popović, 2018a;Prieto Curiel et al., 2020;Wakefield et al., 2010;Windzio & Kleimann, 2009), indicating that this influence is present in many cultural contexts. ...
... Crime stories can lead to more negative attitudes toward specific groups who are overrepresented and frequently portrayed in the media as (potential) perpetrators (Arendt & Northup, 2015), such as juveniles (Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007) and immigrants (Windzio & Kleimann, 2009). The influence of media messages on attitudes and behaviors has been found in studies in English-speaking countries across the world, as well as countries in Latin America, Asia, and across Europe (Arendt & Northup, 2015;Callanan, 2012;Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007;Nellis & Savage, 2012;Popović, 2018a;Prieto Curiel et al., 2020;Wakefield et al., 2010;Windzio & Kleimann, 2009), indicating that this influence is present in many cultural contexts. ...
Article
Full-text available
Consumption of news media can influence attitudes toward specific groups, but the influence of news media on longitudinal data collection has not yet been researched. We present a method to index media attention on a specific topic, as well as a case study on a big child sexual abuse (CSA) story and its effect on parents’ attitudes toward male childcare professionals in a longitudinal study with fathers and mothers of 207 Dutch families. Questionnaire data on attitudes toward gender-differentiated parenting were collected in four annual waves between 2010 and 2014. NexisUni® Academic database was used to index articles on CSA to chart patterns of media attention before and during that time span. There was an immediate increase in media attention, the amount of articles on CSA doubled, as well as a prolonged increase in attention which culminated during the second wave of the study. In the first wave, 97 of the families participated before the CSA case became known, and 110 participated afterward. Parents who participated after the first news about the case came out reported a more negative attitude toward hiring a male babysitter than those who participated before it. This effect was stronger for mothers. The negative effect on attitude endured during the subsequent waves for all fathers and for those mothers who participated before the news broke. Findings indicate that big news stories influence attitudes that lasts over time and can therefore influence longitudinal data. Further analysis suggests that the influence of news stories is gendered, as mothers showed a recovery in their attitudes over time while fathers did not. We recommend further research on the effect of news on attitude and behavioral measures in longitudinal research.
... Much has been written about the focus on the victimisation of these three women (Furedi 2006;O'Donnell 2016;Clifford and White 2017;Waters et al. 2017). Also, these representations emphasise traditional gender beliefs and trivialise, without content and context, the violence to which women are regularly exposed through male violence (Wood 1994;Pollak and Kubrin 2007). Through this scenario, women typically appear in the news in everyday and vulnerable situations, especially emphasising the possibility that this horrifying perpetrator could suddenly appear and commit countless crimes, as is clear in the following quote: ...
... I believe that the media can act as an agent that has the power to frame social problems that need to be addressed. By contrast, through the narratives of its agenda, the media has legitimised the gender-based portrayal of the male criminal, circumscribed by different surveillance purposes (Machado 2004;Pollak and Kubrin 2007;Machado and Granja 2019). The delicate concern about the "transnationalization of crime" (Machado and Santos 2008: 139) provides a kind of management of suspect populations. ...
... Generally, the text analysis method dominates in the field of justice and crime reporting (e.g., portrayals of crimes in newspapers vs. television; Pollak & Kubrin, 2007). The few available image analyses in this field have not yet addressed CSA but focus on different crimes (e.g., portrayal of the 9/11 terrorist attack and its commemoration in the press; Ammann, 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a major global problem (Barth et al., 2013). Therefore, it is important for researchers in communication science to systematically examine the representation of the CSA issue in the media using manual and computational methods of content analysis. According to previous review papers (Popović, 2018; Weatherred, 2015), existing content-analytical studies are mostly manual and limited to newspaper articles and the text level. Currently, it is unclear what kind of visual representations are used to illustrate the CSA issue in the media. We therefore present a tested new instrument to analyze the dominant image motifs (= iconography) in CSA news media coverage (Döring & Walter, 2021). https://www.hope.uzh.ch/doca/article/view/3621
... The reality of society is heavily constructed through the media, which is very powerful in propagating values and information to the masses (Pollack & Kubrin, 2007). Before the emergence of the Internet, the masses depended primarily on mainstream media, particularly newspapers and television, to obtain information from time to time. ...
Article
Full-text available
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was seen as an influential leader when, for the second time in his political life, he was appointed as the Prime Minister of Malaysia at the age of 94 years old. Despite his age, he managed to garner strong support for his leadership when he took over the government following the country’s 14th general election (GE14) in May 2018. Nonetheless, little is known about what contributed to public confidence in the government during his leadership tenure. This paper uses leadership trait theory to discuss the factors influencing public confidence in the government’s capability in managing the country during Tun Dr Mahathir’s tenure as the prime minister. This study is part of a larger study that examines media use, political behavior, and well-being of industrial workers in Malaysia. A self-administered questionnaire was distributed to 475 industrial workers in Malaysia to gauge their perception of the factors contributing to their confidence in the government led by Tun Dr Mahathir. Overall, the findings revealed positive relationships between perception of the condition of the country, Tun Dr Mahathir’s leadership, and confidence in the government. However, no significant relationship was found between media use and public confidence in the government. Implications of leadership trait theory are also discussed. Keywords: Industrial workers, leadership trait theory, media use, public confidence, Tun Dr Mahathir.
... , verwundert es nicht, dass die Bilder zu diesem Framing der Kriminal-bzw. Gerichtsberichterstattung passen (vgl.Grosholz & Kubrin, 2007;Kratzer-Ceylan, 2021;McGregor, 2017;Pollak & Kubrin, 2007;Schildkraut, 2017): Mediale Berichterstattung findet typischerweise statt, wenn ein Missbrauchsfall mit zugeschriebenem Nachrichtenwert bekannt wird (Darstellung von Tatkontext, Tatgeschehen und Beteiligten) und wenn es zum Gerichtsprozess kommt (Fokus auf das verhandelte Tatgesch ...
Article
Full-text available
Sexueller Kindesmissbrauch (SKM) ist in Deutschland und international recht weit verbreitet und hat oft schwerwiegende und langfristige Folgen für die Betroffenen. Wie Öffentlichkeit und Politik das gesellschaftliche Problem des sexuellen Kindesmissbrauchs wahrnehmen und welche Präventions- und Interventionsansätze verfolgt werden, hängt maßgeblich auch von der medialen Berichterstattung ab. Hier zeigt die bisherige kommunikationswissenschaftliche Forschung sowohl Stärken als auch Schwächen medialer SKM-Repräsentationen auf: Einerseits tragen Medien dazu bei, sexuellen Kindesmissbrauch aufzudecken, Betroffenen eine Stimme zu geben und die Öffentlichkeit zu sensibilisieren. Andererseits wird oft klischeehaft und reißerisch berichtet, zuweilen zum Schaden der Betroffenen. Die Forschung zu Inhalten und Qualitätsmerkmalen medialer Berichterstattung über sexuellen Kindesmissbrauch hat einen wichtigen Aspekt bislang völlig ausgeblendet, nämlich die Verwendung von Bildern. Dabei ist die Ikonografie (d. h. die Menge der typischen Bildmotive für ein Thema) ein wichtiges Element medialer Berichterstattung, sie generiert Aufmerksamkeit und Emotionen. Hier setzt die vorliegende Studie an. Sie beantwortet folgende Forschungsfragen: Wie oft werden in der Presseberichterstattung über sexuellen Kindesmissbrauch Symbolbilder genutzt und welche Bildmotive kommen dabei zum Einsatz? Ergänzend wird auch untersucht: Wie oft werden in Präventionsmaterialien von Fachberatungsstellen zu sexuellem Kindesmissbrauch Symbolbilder genutzt und mit welchen Bildmotiven wird dort gearbeitet? Um die jeweiligen Ikonografien des sexuellen Kindesmissbrauchs herauszuarbeiten, wurden eine Stichprobe von N = 1437 deutschsprachigen Online-Presseartikeln über SKM sowie eine Stichprobe von N = 230 deutschsprachigen SKM-Präventionsmaterialien gezogen und die dort enthaltenen Symbolbilder jeweils separat einer standardisierten Bildinhaltsanalyse unterzogen. Es zeigte sich, dass 29.2 % der Online-Presseartikel und 62.0 % der Präventionsmaterialien Symbolbilder nutzten. Die analysierten 419 SKM-Symbolbilder der Presse orientieren sich am Framing der Kriminalberichterstattung und visualisieren 1. Tatkontexte, 2. Tathergang und Beteiligte sowie 3. Tatfolgen für die Beteiligten. Für die Präventionsmaterialien war anhand von 450 Symbolbildern eine SKM-Ikonografie nachweisbar, die sich am Framing der Präventionsansätze orientiert und 1. Primärprävention, 2. Sekundärprävention und 3. Tertiärprävention abbildet. Der Beitrag vergleicht die beiden SKM-Ikonografien, diskutiert die Bildtypen kritisch im Hinblick auf Kriterien der Medienqualität und Medienethik und unterbreitet Verbesserungsvorschläge. ***Anmerkung*** Dieser Aufsatz hat den Zeitschriftenpreis 2022 der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft DGPuK gewonnen.
Thesis
Full-text available
Media är genom sin rapportering en betydelsefull aktör och deltagare i samhällsdebatten om våldtäkt. Denna studie analyserar nyhetsartiklar från fyra tidningsredaktioners rapportering om våldtäktsanklagelserna mot den forna Justitiekanslern Göran Lambertz. Studien ämnar undersöka hur media framställer Göran Lambertz som anklagad våldtäktsförövare samt hur den juridikstudent som anmält honom för brottet porträtteras som offer. Urvalet av artikelmaterialet har analyserats och kodats genom kvalitativ innehållsanalys för att uttyda genomgående teman som bidrar till framställningen. Dessa teman presenteras och analyseras med förankring i Nils Christies teori om ideala offer (1986) och Raewyn Connells maskulinitetsteori (1995). De teman som kunde identifieras benämndes: den osannolika förövaren, den kladdige gubben, offerskap och utsatthet. Resultaten visade på en stor överensstämmelse med tidigare forskning om hur våldtäktsoffer och förövare framställs i media, men demonstrerar även nya aspekter, problematiseringar och motsägelser genom ett mer uttalat maktperspektiv och nyanseringar. Vidare betonar media flitigt Lambertz höga status och sociala anseende, medan juridikstudenten ömsom porträtteras som idealt offer genom sin underlägsenhet, svaghet och utsatthet, och ömsom som bärare av ansvar och skuld för Lambertz beteende.
Article
Research Summary This study investigates the role of the news media in shaping attitudes toward the protests of 2020. Using data from a nationally representative election survey, it examines the association between news consumption and support for law-and-order policies to address protest violence, with perceptions that the protesters were violent as a potential mediator. Findings indicate that viewers of online news are less likely to support law-and-order policies. This relationship is mediated by perceived protester violence, with perceived violence enhancing support for law-and-order policies. Further examination shows that political bias plays a role: viewers of left-leaning sites are less likely to support law-and-order policies to address protest violence, while viewers of right-leaning sites are more likely. These relationships are also mediated by perceived violence. Policy Implications A slight majority of respondents indicate that they lean toward solving problems of racism and police violence, indicating that much of the American public is open to criminal justice reform. Perceived violence helps to shape the association of online news media with support for law-and-order policies. Activists should avoid violence in their protests and use Internet-based media sources to publicize their peaceful activities and demands. Law enforcement agencies should use the Internet and social media to keep the public informed of the reality of protests, especially of any violence that occurs, in an effort to justify forceful tactics.
Article
Full-text available
This article explores the relationship between patriarchy and victim blaming in cases of rape and sexual violence. It explores how women’s dependence on, and subordination to men has been used to blame victims in cases of rape and sexual assault. The article will examine how patriarchal norms that are deeply entrenched in existing laws, traditions, religion, and social practices have been used to blame women in cases of rape. It will also explore how victim blaming attitudes have and continue to be used as a tool to absolve the perpetrator from their crimes. Using discourse analysis to examine the existing literature, the article will highlight how sexual violence are sometimes minimised and trivialised in courts and media. As well as this, the study adopts a feminist lens and critiques the imbalance of power that exist between men and women. The article will highlight how patriarchal norms have been institutionalised in all layers of social structures and contest how female victims of sexual violence are sometimes ridiculed and devalued in court. Within this finding, the construction of women’s sexuality and the limited criminal justice protection will be discussed in depth. The article concludes by arguing that patriarchal norms can be destructive and obstructive in achieving fairness and justice for victims of rape and sexual violence. Therefore, immediate steps must be taken to address victim-blaming attitudes by propagating more gender equality practices and instilling such practices in all levels of society and state institutions.
Article
Full-text available
There is a tendency to see the media as something that is relatively new phenomenon, but the media has been around for a long time. This article provides an overview of crime as portrayed on cable television. Specifically we attend both fictional and nonfictional representation of crime including crime dramas, crime-oriented reality shows and new magazines. The relationship between crime and media is a complex one. Since, media outlets become one of the primary sources by which the public learns about crime, offendors, victims and criminal justice system. Too often the media introduce people of color as criminal offendors and reinforcing generalizations that certain groups of people can and should be considered threats to public safety.
Article
Full-text available
This paper is concerned with the treatment of crime and criminal justice in the British national news media. It begins by proposing a break with 'media-centric' approaches to the study of relations between news sources and the media which have tended to ignore the conflicts within and between social institutions. It moves on to illustrate the argument by examining the media strategies pursued by sources in the crime and criminal justice fields, drawing attention to the relevance for these activities of such factors as the relative institutionalization of social actors and their use of available resources. Recent developments in crime, legal affairs and home affairs reporting are the background to a discussion of the specialist organization of press journalism and television coverage. Some illustrative discussion of media content is presented that highlights pertinent differences within and between television broadcasting and the press. Brief observations are also made concerning the relations between patterns of media consumption and fear of crime in sections of the television audience. The paper concludes by arguing for more connections to be made between bodies of existing work in media sociology, political science and criminology.
Article
Full-text available
Many Americans report that they are fearful of crime. One frequently cited source of this fear is the mass media. The media, and local television news in particular, often report on incidents of crime, and do so in a selective and sometimes sensational manner. This paper examines the role of the media in shaping crime fears, in conjunction with both demographic factors and local crime conditions. Unlike most previous research in this area, which typically focuses on only one medium, the present study examines the effects of several media — local and national television, the radio, newspapers, and the Internet. The findings address four theoretical perspectives on the relationship among the media, real-world conditions, and fear of crime.
Article
Local television news is the public's primary source of public affairs information. News stories about crime dominate local news programming because they meet the demand for "action news." The prevalence of this type of reporting has led to a crime narrative or "script" that includes two core elements: crime is violent and perpetrators of crime are non-white males. We show that this script has become an ingrained heuristic for understanding crime and race. Using a multi-method design, we assess the impact of the crime script on the viewing public. Our central finding is that exposure to the racial element of the crime script increases support for punitive approaches to crime and heightens negative attitudes about African-Americans among white, but not black, viewers. In closing, we consider the implications of our results for intergroup relations, electoral politics, and the practice of journalism.
Article
The news media are a vital part of the process by which individuals' private troubles with crime—as victims or offenders—are transformed into public issues. The social construction of crime problems may be understood as reflecting the types of relationships that link news agencies to their sources, and the organizational constraints that structure the news-gathering process. The ways in which the news media collect, sort, and contextualize crime reports help to shape public consciousness regarding which conditions need to be seen as urgent problems, what kinds of problems they represent, and, by implication, how they should be resolved. While much attention has been focused on the ways in which media attention to crime influences the fear of crime, it is likely that the most significant effects of media reporting are broadly ideological rather than narrowly attitudinal. By restricting the terms of discussion, the news media facilitate the marginalization of competing views regarding crime and its solution.