Understanding Fear in Crime News Reporting

In the production of news, news coverage was shaped according to the journalists` particular conceptions of crime. Extensive and various sources merged to define crime danger, establishing a version of the social reality of crime that differed considerably from other mediums of knowledge. For example, a sense of societal responsibility to end violence against women often guided the newsmaking process, unlike the majority of mainstream newspaper and television crime reports that individualized the predator criminal (Surette, 2004).

The crime accounts in an issue of the three popular women’s magazines had a definite feminist agenda: to acknowledge the obstacles and inequality inherent within law and criminal justice practices, and to support social and legal resolutions that eliminated male violence against women. By providing crime coverage from an experiential standpoint, and exposing myths commonly associated with women’s fear of crime, journalists helped to reconstruct alternative crime news. In sum, two distinct patterns of news reporting were observed throughout this research.

Both patterns communicated crime and criminal justice according to the journalists` “sense” of the issues: their preferred meanings, constructed through particular discursive arrangements, helped to construct different versions of the “reality” of crime risk. The dominant reporting style of the news in an issue of three popular women’s magazines promoted a feminist critique of women’s fear of crime based on women’s own experiences that downplayed indicators of fear and encouraged an informed understanding of the crime phenomenon.

Rather than constructing random men as the source of danger, the “true” offenders were reported to be sexism, ineffective laws, and a criminal justice system that supported male violence against women. However, a minor and subordinate pattern of news reporting emerged that “mystified” the issue of crime and prohibited the consideration of contexts or alternatives. These constructions in the news coverage eventually reflected information and interpretations that supported official sources, changing the underlying ideology of social reform to self-responsibilization for crime.

In summary, by pursuing these research directions a greater understanding of the complex issues surrounding crime, fear, and the media will be advanced. Further knowledge about readers, news workers and policy makers will explicate the effects of gender, new production processes, and political influence on media images. Such multifaceted analyses serve to extend the understanding of crime news as a social construct.

References

Bagdikian, B. (2000). The media monopoly, 6th ed. Boston: Beacon Press. Barak, G. (1998). Newsmaking criminology: Reflections on the media, intellectuals, and crime. Justice Quarterly 5: 565-87.