NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Top Story Tonight: Kids And Crime

May 29, 2001

The top network news story of the 1990s -- and of every night on local news broadcasts -- is crime, say researchers. And the portrayal of crime is out of whack with reality. According to researchers at the Justice Policy Institute: 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.

Based on their analysis of numerous studies of news media reporting, the researchers say that what is included -- or not included -- in the news presents the public with a false picture. For example,

  • Most studies that examine race and crime find the proportion of crime committed by people of color (usually African Americans) is over-reported and that black victims are under-represented.
  • Specifically, for example, in news coverage blacks are most often the perpetrators of violence against whites, whereas in reality whites are six times as likely to be homicide victims at the hands of other whites.
  • Other studies find that crimes committed by people of color are covered in proportion with arrest rates, but that crimes committed by whites are undercovered.

And youth, when they are covered by the news media, are usually shown in the context of crime -- 40 percent of the time in newspaper stories and 48 percent in network news segments about young people, according to a 1993 study.

The studies show that crime coverage continued to expand in the 1980s and 1990s, even as crime rates began falling.

Source: Lori Dorfman and Vincent Schiraldi, "OFF BALANCE: Youth, Race & Crime in the News," Justice Policy Institute, April 2001.


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