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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.
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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.
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A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves.
This documentary, available online and on DVD, features a wide range of Australian journalists their recounting experiences covering traumatic stories.
Your contributions help the Dart Center nurture informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy worldwide.
The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.