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Newspapers are a primary source of information about local crime (Stempel & Hargrove, 1996). As such influential sources, newspapers are charged with the vast responsibility of bringing objective information to the public (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001). Yet, how representative is our daily news of actual events in our communities? Do reporting trends mirror or shape reality? This fact sheet reviews reporting trends in crime news and what is known about the influence of this reporting/coverage on consumers.
Reports of crime don’t match actual rates of crime.:
Disproportionate coverage or misrepresentation of particular types of victims and/or perpetrators results in the public associating crime with minority status:
Newspaper coverage of crime is not reflective of actual crime rates. Biases of gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, and relationship status are documented in several publications. Evidence suggests that such biases influence public perception of perpetrators and victims. Repeated exposure to unbalanced information appears to lead consumers to perceive higher risk and feel greater fear of falling victim to violent criminal activity.
The consequences of skewed perceptions on public opinion and public policy decisions are documented, but more studies are needed to understand this phenomenon. For instance, how does disproportionate coverage of sexual assault affect society’s views toward victims? How does it influence how violence is understood? Further research needs to examine these issues in relation to crime and disaster. Journalists and editors may want to consider the effects of their coverage and the balance they wish to achieve with their stories.
Educating journalists on the impact of coverage and opportunities for providing balance and context in their stories may lead to more accurate information and careful planning in news coverage of crime and violence.
Barlow, M. H., Barlow, D. E., & Chiricos, T. G. (1995). Economic conditions and ideologies of crime in the media: A content analysis of crime news. Crime and Delinquency, 44, 3-19.
Coleman, R., & Thorson, E. (2002). The effects of news stories that put crime andviolence into context: Testing the public health model of reporting. Journal of Health Communication, 7, 401-425.
Dorfman, L., Thorson, E., & Stevens, J. E. (2001). Reporting on violence: Bringing a public health perspective into the newsroom. Health Education and Behavior, 28, 402-419.
Gilliam, F., Iyengar, S., Simon, A., & Wright, O. (1996). Crime in black and white: The violent, scary world of local news. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 1, 15.
Howitt, D. (1998). Crime, the media and the law. West Sussex, England: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Kitzinger, J. (2004). Framing abuse: Media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children. London: Pluto Press.
Kitzinger, J., & Skidmore, P. (1995). Playing safe: Media coverage of child sexual abuse prevention strategies. Child Abuse Review, 4, 47-56.
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2001). The elements of journalism: What newspeople should know and the public should expect. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Liska, A., & Baccaglini, W. (1990). Feeling safe by comparison: Crime in the newspapers. Social Problems, 37, 360-374.
Lowry, D. T., Nio, T. C. J., & Leitner, D. W. (2003). Setting the public fear agenda: A longitudinal analysis of network tv crime reporting, public perceptions of crime, and FBI crime statistics. Journal of Communications, March, 61-73.
Reber, B. H., & Chang, Y. (2001). Assessing cultivation theory and public health model of crime reporting. Newspaper Research Journal, 21, 99-112.
Rodgers, S., & Thorson, E. (2001). The reporting of crime and violence in the LA Times:Is there a public health perspective? Journal of Health Communication, 6, 169-181.
Romer, D., Jamieson, K. H., & Aday, S. (2003). Television news and the cultivation of fear of crime. Journal of Communication, March, 88-104.
Sheley, J. F., & Ashkins, C. D. (1981). Crime, crime news, and crime views. Public Opinion Quarterly, 45, 492-506.
Smith, S. J. (1984). Crime in the news. British Journal of Criminology, 24, 289-295.
Stempel, G. H., & Hargrove, T. (1996). Mass media audiences in a changing media environment. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 73, 549-558.
Sorenson, S. B., Manz, J. G. P., & Berk, R. A. (1998). News media coverage and the Epidemiology of homicide. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 1510-1514.
When children are victims of violence, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth with compassion and sensitivity.
A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves. Click here for a Ukrainian translation.
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The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.