Crime and Local Television News

Article excerpt

Crime and Local Television News. Jeremy Lipschultz and Michael Hilt. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 171 pp. $45 hbk. $19.95 pbk. Lipschultz and Hilt challenge the "If it bleeds, it leads" approach to many local TV news operations with a unique offering amalgamating research and professional experience about crime and local TV news that, until now, rarely intermingle. The subtitle, "Dramatic, Breaking, and Live from the Scene" reflects the text's urgency to create a broad cultural context for one of the most controversial aspects of local TV reporting. It begins with an appropriately hard-hitting foreword from Deborah Potter, a former network news reporter and current executive director of the much-acclaimed NewsLab, which is dedicated to improving local TV reporting. Crime then addresses several critical aspects relating to local crime news, including the environment and business of TV news, legal and ethical issues, some original research, and two populations generally underserved by TV: minorities and the elderly.

This broad-brush approach works as both a strength and weakness. A strong case is immediately made for the topic's importance, with ample scholarly and contemporary evidence. Theory and research are discussed early, which helps create frameworks for later conversations. However, each perspective (uses and gratifications, agenda setting, cultivation, and cultural studies) has only about a page. Crime emphasizes that any meaningful dialogue about the topic must be socially expansive and ultimately interdisciplinary. Aspects of traditional mass communications research, cultural studies, and sociology are woven into most discussions.

Despite these strengths, the writing is somewhat confusing and awkward, and the work generally lacks cohesion and balance. Issues regarding minorities are given solid and thoughtful discussion, yet the ethics chapter consists mostly of sidebar boxes with ethical codes from relevant professional groups and a transcript from Columbine coverage. In the first few chapters the reader is inundated with dense text and debate, only to be left searching for topic connections later. A later chapter titled "Crime News and the Elderly" includes no such connected discussion but instead serves as a primer on the elderly relating to TV broadcasting and news.

The authors suggest an audience of broadcast journalism students. Crime's relatively narrow scope, scholarly tone, and heavy use of academic sources and quotes suggest an undergraduate special topics or graduate-level class. The book utilizes an impressive array of both scholarly and trade resources, providing both students and researchers with one of the only bibliographies of its kind. However, some of the citations are repetitive and older than contemporary research would suggest, while a few for TV news viewing patterns and market share are rather outdated. …