This study examined the presentation of crime stories in the media of variously sized cities with significantly different crime rates, the factors that explain the prominence of crime stories, and the importance of using multivariate statistical techniques in conjunction with content analysis.
The study showed no consistent and predictable trends in media crime coverage between cities of different sizes with different crime rates; however, it confirmed the findings of Chermak (1998) in showing a significant and positive relationship between the number of crimes in a city and the number of words per crime article. Relationships between type of offense and prominence in the news identified by Chermak were all in the same direction as the current study, but were not statistically significant. Chermak showed that violent crimes were overrepresented in the media in terms of their frequency of selection for coverage. The current study also found that violent crimes were more prominent in media coverage. Future research on crime stories in the media should use a more comprehensive measure of prominence. Chermak used the number of column inches, and Budd (1964) used an attention score. The current study used the number of words per article. All of these indicators are subject to measurement error, since prominence is a multidimensional construct. Future research should consider using additional predictors of crime story prominence in their models. Other suggestions for research methodology are also offered. The current study collected crime incident stories from four major daily newspapers using Lexus-Nexus. A constructed week sample was used as an appropriate representation of crime over the course of a year. The study included only those articles that discussed local crime incidents in the beginning stages of the criminal justice system (discovery, arrest, investigation, and arraignment/indictment). 4 tables, 8 notes, and 58 references
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