Michael O'Hear


Many commentators have argued that high levels of public fear and anger regarding violent crime result, at least in part, from distorted coverage of crime in the news media. Among other distortions, it is said that the news media devote greatly disproportionate coverage to the most outrageous instances of violent crime, and that the media fail to provide information that would helpfully contextualize the offenses or humanize the perpetrators. In order to test these latter claims, crime stories from a daily newspaper and an Internet news site in one mid-sized city were collected for one year. As expected, in comparison with actual crime rates, the news sources disproportionately covered violent crime, and, within the violent-crime category, disproportionately covered homicides. Homicides accounted for 61% of the coverage in one news source, and 27% in the other. Also as expected, the news sources only infrequently supplied contextualizing/humanizing information. However, it remains unclear whether and to what extent such patterns in news coverage affect public attitudes toward crime and punishment.

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