Crime in the Newspaper: Does an Overemphasis Create False Perceptions of Violence?

Jacquelyne R. Biggers, Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte
Paul H. Gates, Jr., Appalachian State University
Anita N. Blowers, Univ. of North Carolina at Charlotte

This study examines the relationship between the amount of crime news reported by a metropolitan daily newspaper and the actual number of crimes reported to the police within its core circulation area. Previous research has shown that public perception of crime is influenced by news reporting. According to the agenda-setting function theory, news coverage sets the tone for public discourse, shaping citizens' beliefs regarding the frequency of crime. Specifically, this study analyzes the extent to which the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published stories on murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary during calendar year 2001. Data on the number of column inches, the number of stories devoted to these offenses, and their placement in the newspaper were gathered to obtain an accurate picture of the crimes reported by the newspaper. These data are then compared to official statistics on the number of crimes reported to police departments within Mecklenburg County to determine whether there is an overemphasis in coverage that may create false public perceptions of violence.

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Updated 05/20/2006