Youth Violence Stories Focus on Events, Not Causes
McManus, John, Dorfman, Lori, Newspaper Research Journal
During the last 25 years we've learned much about how audiences make sense of news. We know, for example, that news frames are influential in making certain elements of issues and events available for mental processing while ignoring others. We know the level of context in stories greatly influences comprehension. Terse episodic reporting, for example, throws readers and viewers back on their own pre-conceptions about why events take place. It encourages simplistic explanations such as blaming individuals and exempting the conditions shaping them. Some kinds of reporting appear to promote a political or social reaction while others elicit only apathy.
The present study explores whether major newspapers have incorporated these findings about how to make information more useful as a resource for civic participation.
We focused on the portrayal of youth violence in three large California newspapers with generally good reputations for quality. Violence attracted our attention because Americans have consistently ranked it at or near the top of their concerns over the last several decades and because "law and order" has been an area of intense political interest. Youth have been a focus of new criminal laws. Youth also interested us because we thought environmental contributions to crime would show up in the coverage of impressionable and immature perpetrators, if it showed up at all.
Numerous studies have documented the media's preoccupation with crime reporting--particularly focusing on juveniles--even while crime rates have been declining. (1) These portrayals of youth violence may have powerful political effects. For example, 44 states and the District of Columbia adopted tougher juvenile sentencing laws from 1992-97. (2)
A grant dictated California as the locus of the study; but, in addition to being the most populous state, California has a reputation for being where American popular culture is invented. We selected three large newspapers--one in the state capital, and the largest circulation papers in northern and southern California--thinking they might be likely places to find the best in journalistic practice because of their great resources. Although fewer Americans are reading them than a decade ago, newspapers are still the standard-bearers of journalism and often set the agenda for broadcast news.
We begin with an analysis of how violence was covered a quarter century ago. In 1976, Graber launched the most comprehensive study of violence reporting we could locate in social science literature. She examined news content for one year in three Midwestern newspapers, a small paper in New England, network newscasts and local television news. She found crime/justice was a frequent story across all media. But most articles appeared to have been taken almost verbatim from the police blotter with little context. The great majority of stories were episodic--accounts of single incidents--rather than thematic--stories emphasizing issues or connections and patterns among events.
"One seldom finds interpretive analyses that place criminal justice system information into historical, sociological or political perspective," she wrote. (3)
"What" trumped "why" in this coverage. Only 5 percent of all crime stories discussed causes.
Of those, Graber wrote: "Curable deficiencies in the existing criminal justice system (mostly making it more punitive) and personality defects in individuals are depicted by the media as the main causes of rampant crime. Social causes play a subordinate, though by no means non-existent, role." (4) Only 3 percent of all stories mentioned solutions.
"Suggested remedies are sparse and do not generally include social reforms," she noted. (5)
Since Graber's landmark study, researchers have learned a lot about presenting news to facilitate comprehension. We now turn to that literature.
It might be helpful to begin with a theory of how people make sense of the news. Price and Tewksbury (6) weave together several efforts to understand how news affects formation of politically-relevant opinions: agenda-setting, framing and priming. Here's the short version of their model: At any given time people have a store of information built up over time from direct experience and from mediated and personal messages. They call upon this store to make sense of issues and events in the news. But like a computer with limited memory, people can only keep so much information in mind.
Two criteria determine which information in the store will be used for processing. The first is what's most readily available--what's already in mind or has been recently stored. The second is information the individual deems most relevant to the topic he or she is considering. Thus the information that's both most accessible and most relevant has the greatest chance of influencing one's political opinions. Information left in the background is less likely to be incorporated.
According to Price and Tewksbury, how reporters frame a story may have a significant effect on the sense readers make of it. For them, "a framing effect is one in which salient attributes of a message (its organization, selection of content, or thematic structure) render particular thoughts applicable, resulting in their activation and use in evaluations." (7)
Framing effects can be powerful. Before the March 2000 primary election in California, pollsters read accounts of a political ballot initiative to likely voters. In certain counties a short summary of a proposition was read. In other counties, a somewhat longer version was read. When interviewers said: "Proposition 21 provides changes for juvenile felonies--increasing penalties, changing trial procedures and required reporting," likely voters said they opposed it by a 17-percentage point margin. But in other, similar counties when pollsters added the following phrase--"The Juvenile Crime Initiative increases punishment for gang-related felonies, home invasion robbery, car-jacking, witness intimidations and drive-by shootings, and creates a crime of gang-recruitment activities"--likely voters favored it by a 23-percentage point margin. (8) A simple expansion of the wording--containing frames of youth violence--made a 40 point difference in public opinion.
According to the Price and Tewksbury model, a lack of information with which to process the incoming message leaves people particularly vulnerable to the frames embedded in the new message. Iyengar found that Americans indeed have low levels of political awareness and information. (9) He put most of the blame on the structure of news reporting, particularly in television. Television news, he found, deprives Americans of the kinds of frames they most need to make sense of political questions--frames that assign responsibility for social ills and suggest remedies.
... television's unswerving focus on specific episodes, individual perpetrators, victims or other actors at the expense of more general, thematic information inhibits the attribution of political responsibility to societal factors and to the actions of politicians.... (10)
Gamson conducted extensive focus groups among working class Bostonians trying to discover what kinds of news frames excite civic participation. (11) To get to "hot," or emotional, public cognitions, stories need specifics; however, to motivate real change those specifics have to be linked to more abstract systemic analysis, Gamson found. Yet the narrative structure of much news tends to emphasize human actors and drama rather than analysis of socio-cultural causes.
As Gamson also concluded, "If people simply relied on the media, it would be difficult to find any coherent frame at all...." (12)
Neuman, Just and Crigler also asked people how they make sense of news. Their content analyses again revealed an emphasis on episodic reporting and an absence of cause and solution frames. The paucity of such frames led to a sense of public powerlessness and apathy. (13)
Researchers focusing on crime reporting reached similar conclusions. Best found that news media "tend to view crime as a melodrama in which evil villains prey on innocent victims." (14) Episodic reports emphasizing violence contribute to civic paralysis, he argued adding that, "Defining violence as patternless not only discourages us from searching for and identifying patterns, it keeps us from devising social policies to address those problems." (15) Dorfman and colleagues analyzed the content of local TV news about violence in California and found 80 percent of stories were episodic and that only one story of the nearly 1,800 analyzed had a public health frame--emphasizing social causes rather than just individual responsibility. (16)
Coleman and Thorson demonstrated that "embedding public health information, which implicates environmental causes of crime, into stories can change readers' attributions of responsibility. Attitudes become more critical of society's role in crime and violence rather than simply focusing on the individual's role." (17)
What should journalists do? Recommendations based on the research exhibit a central tendency: Report more thematically, helping audiences to see patterns; when reporting episodes, increase the level of context so readers will have more resources to fit the new knowledge into the old; enrich stories with more frames describing causes and solutions.
Based on this literature, we asked how youth violence (YV) stories were framed, examining first structure then content:
What proportion of YV stories were primarily episodic versus primarily thematic?
What proportion of YV stories contained frames of cause? What proportion contained frames of solution? What proportion of frames described the nature of the problem?
Which YV frames appeared in the most stories?
Finally, we measured the level of context in reports that focused on an episode of youth violence. In what proportion of stories did various contextual items appear in episodic reports of YV?
Following Gamson's hypothesis that framing is particularly active after a "critical discourse event," we created two samples. In the first we examined one issue each of the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle every 13 days for a year from June 1998 to May 1999. In the second, we sampled every issue during the seven days in April following the Columbine High School massacre--the bloodiest incident of youth violence the nation experienced in more than 50 years. The yearlong sample followed a "constructed week" design. This assures equal numbers of fat Sunday editions and thin Monday papers while avoiding a sample dominated by an unusual event such as Columbine. Such a design provides the best overall picture of reporting available with a particular sample size. (18) The two samples allowed us to test Gamson's hypothesis and provided a contrast between reporting under routine crime conditions and an extraordinary one.
We reasoned that readers pay more attention to prominently displayed stories and those promoted on section fronts and that journalists put their best out front. So we analyzed "featured" news stories--every article that began or was "teased" on the front page, the local/metro news front page, the front of the lifestyle section and the first page of any inserted weekly local news sections. We also included "sidebars" of display page stories--adjacent articles about the same topic on an inside page. Finally, we examined editorials and op-ed columns. Business, sports, travel, automotive, computer, real estate and other specialty sections were excluded because they rarely contain violent crime stories. Overall, we analyzed 3,174 articles. Of these, 638 comprised the weeklong post-Columbine sample and 2,536 comprised the yearlong sample.
Given our focus on youth and violence in the United States, we excluded international stories. For domestic stories we defined violence and youth broadly.
A story was included if it described a deliberate physical attack on a person or property, including violence to self and self-defense, or a written or verbal threat of bodily harm. We also included violence-related issues: police and judicial efforts to bring suspects of violence to justice, stories about cause, prevention, nature, extent, effects or remedies, including the penal system and political issues such as gun control. To be counted as a story about violence, one-third or more of the first half of the article's text had to concern violence.
We defined "youth" as any person 24 or younger. (19) A story was included if at least one-third of the text concerned youth or youth-related issues, such as schools, summer camps, child support, lead poisoning or child care.
Thematic reporting scrutinizes the big picture, examining connections between events, looking for trends, emphasizing the "why" and "how." All articles about issues such as gun control or sentencing reform were coded as thematic even if they occurred within the context of a meeting. Episodic reporting, in contrast, focuses on a single event. It's a snapshot of "what" happened or reporting at the micro level. A single story may contain elements of both approaches. However, the one which predominates in terms of column inches determined the classification. If the two were equal, we considered the story to be thematic.
We relied on Entman's definition of content framing as two related processes--selecting and highlighting. (20)
"To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation," Entman wrote. (21)
We divided content frames into three general categories. They were those describing a necessary, sufficient or contributing cause of violence; and those describing solutions; and those diagnosing the nature of the problem. Frames could have a positive or negative valence. For example, the solution frame, "limiting access to firearms would reduce violence," could have a negative valence if stated as "if more people were armed, criminals would think twice about committing violence."
For episodic stories, we measured the degree of context. We looked for 17 elements that might help readers make sense of a violent incident. (22) They included type of weapon used, how it was obtained, relationship of the perpetrator and victim, frequency of that type of violence in the community, racism/hate, presence of drugs or alcohol and costs of the violence to victims/ family/police/courts/public hospitals. Rather than just note their presence or absence in the story, we examined whether reporters inquired about them. Thus the statement, "police were unable to determine whether the suspect had been drinking," counted as much as reporting that the suspect was or wasn't imbibing.
Contrary to older research, we did not find a high proportion of featured stories about violence in the yearlong sample. Of 2,536 stories analyzed over the year, 9 percent concerned violence. (23, 24)
More stories--14 percent--concerned youth than violence. Stories concerned with both youth and violence comprised only 4 percent of the yearlong sample. Of course, in the week following Columbine, youth violence became the dominant story. Routinely, these three quality California dailies framed violence as having no cause. A did violence to B or took B's property. The why is apparently assumed to be self evident. Solutions and ways of describing the nature of the problem--other than shocking or distressing--were also rare.
But a spectacular incident of youth violence--Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris' murderous and suicidal rampage that left 15 dead--utterly transformed these same news organizations. Suddenly, the cause of a crime became newsworthy, and, complex. The shooters were described as socially isolated. They were harassed by peers and sought revenge. Years of mediated images of violence--often rewarded and shown with no negative consequences--distorted the perpetrators' sense of reality. Their parents failed to supervise and help the two young men fit in. Their rebellious clique urged them in anti-social directions. Guns made them feel powerful. Access to firearms enabled them to turn their twisted fantasies into reality. Living in a culture where violence is often the first, rather than last, resort, Harris and Klebold made a personal choice. Rather than being an intractable problem we just have to live with, solutions were possible. Society should enact laws restricting access to guns, find ways for adults to get in touch with the young, identify and treat children who showed signs of violent behavior. Simply hiring more police or lengthening prison terms were not portrayed as adequate deterrents.
RQ1: Structural Frames: Thematic versus Episodic
In the yearlong sample, which recorded routine incidents of youth crime, about two-thirds of the articles in the three newspapers were structured predominantly as episodes--discrete events. About one-third were treated thematically--as issues. (25) These results are very similar to Graber's results in the mid-70s. She found a 69-31 percent split favoring episodic reporting in the Chicago Tribune.
But after Columbine, the ratio flipped. Sixty percent of the stories in the week following the shootings were predominantly thematic in character. In fact, these percentages understate the contrast. The Columbine coverage was so extensive that each day's reporting was broken up into three or four stories. If these had been combined into one large story, a somewhat higher proportion would have met thematic standards.
RQ2: Prevalence of Content Frames
Six in ten of the youth violence stories in the yearlong sample contained at least one frame of cause, solution or nature of the problem. However, the proportion drops below half--to 45 percent--if only frames of cause or solution, which are thought to be the most important are considered. However, only one in three stories contains either cause or remedy frames if editorial and op-ed columns are excluded and only news content is considered. (26)
But after the critical discourse incident of Columbine, as Gamson hypothesized, the reporting exploded with frames. That week fully 82 percent of all youth violence articles contained at least one frame, and 67 percent carried causal or solution frames. Even if opinion articles were excluded, leaving just news reports, 60 percent still contained these crucial frames.
However, these numbers seriously underestimate the proportion of frame-bearing stories compared to the yearlong sample. In the week following Columbine, coverage of the tragedy was so voluminous, stories were divided by theme. If "sidebar" stories on the tragedy had been combined into a single story, frames would have appeared in virtually every story. By contrast, very few stories in the yearlong sample carried sidebars. After Columbine, "Why?" and "What can we do about it?" suddenly became important questions in the press.
RQ3: Prevalence of Specific Frames
In the yearlong sample, fewer than one in three stories (29 percent) contained any causal frame. The most common was access to guns, although it appeared in only 7 percent of youth violence stories, just three other frames were offered as frequently as one story in 20: Peer pressure from within a group, isolation from and harassment by peers and individual psychological disturbance. Still, these results show substantial improvement from Graber's finding a quarter of a century ago that 5 percent of stories about violence mentioned causes.
In the post-Columbine sample, however, 54 percent of all youth violence stories had at last one causal frame. Compared to the yearlong sample, the number of causal frames mentioned in 5 percent or more of the stories tripled, from four to 12. The most frequent causal frame (29 percent) was peer isolation and harassment. Watching violent TV, movies and video games was mentioned as a cause in 20 percent of the stories. Close behind at 18 percent came poor parenting and psychological disturbance. Next most frequent were access to guns, peer pressure from a group and erosion of social mores coupled with the rise of a culture of violence and guns. (See Table 1)
In the yearlong sample, frames prescribing some remedy to the problem of youth violence were slightly more common than were causal frames. Thirty-one percent of stories contained at least one solution frame. The most often cited was greater law enforcement, mentioned in 8 percent of stories. No other solution was provided in 5 percent or more of the stories. Solution frames were much more common in our sample than in Graber's mid-70s sample. She found only 3 percent of stories described solutions. (See Table 2)
As with causal frames, the frequency of solution frames jumped after the Columbine incident with 45 percent of stories containing at least one solution frame. And rather than just "greater law enforcement," a variety of remedies were proposed. Eight frames were present in at least 5 percent of the stories. The most common were gun control, present in 19 percent of the stories, followed by more adult-youth contact/better parenting, at 16 percent. Prosecution of parents was a remedy suggested in 8 percent of stories, followed by reducing media violence, violence prevention education, the negative of gun control (e.g. expanding gun ownership) and greater law enforcement.
Nature of the problem frames
In the yearlong sample, these frames were as common as causal frames; 29 percent of stories contained at least one. (27) The only nature of the problem frame mentioned in more than 5 percent of stories was a sympathy frame: The violence is very shocking or distressing. In the Columbine sample, the same frame was again the only frequent one, appearing in 41 percent of the stories. As with other frames, the splitting of stories into sidebars renders this number a substantial underestimate when compared with the yearlong sample.
RQ4: Amount of Context Accompaning Youth Violence Stories?
We compared each story describing a violent act with a list of contextual items derived from epidemiological literature. Obviously, not all of these details are relevant or available for every violent act reported in the paper. (28) So we did not include context items inappropriate to the particular circumstances of the event in our analysis.
The newspapers scored very well on several context items in the yearlong sample. (See Table 3) The relationship between actor and perpetrator was mentioned in 91 percent of the stories, and 93 percent noted the type of violence and weapon used. More than half of the stories mentioned gang influences, if any, and the perpetrator's employment status. No other contextual items were mentioned in half or more of the stories where they could have been reported.
Given that 21 percent of violent offenders may be under the influence of alcohol and 12 percent high on drugs at the time of the incident, we were surprised at how infrequently journalists reported on these prominent risk factors. Only 14 percent of stories for alcohol and 9 percent for drugs discussed these factors. (29) The baseline frequency of a particular type of violence in the community was also rare--reported in only 19 percent of stories. Although we know that the poor are victimized more frequently than affluent Americans, the socio-economic status of perpetrators or victims (revealed by parents' occupations, neighborhood, etc.) was mentioned in less than 30 percent of stories.
Race also correlates with youth violence. (30) However, many newsrooms now discourage ethnic and racial descriptors unless they are clearly relevant to the story, such as in a hate crimes or descriptions of a fugitive. The race of perpetrators or victims was mentioned in 39 percent of stories.
The cost of violence rarely appeared in the yearlong sample, with one exception--the emotional cost or trauma of the event. Although many states spend as much or more of their budgets on prisons as they spend on higher education, the cost of incarceration was mentioned in only 1 percent of stories. Police costs were not mentioned at all, and court costs were written about in only 1 percent of stories. This same was true for medical costs and loss of family income. Violence was portrayed as saddening its victims but not affecting our pocketbooks.
In contrast, every day of the Columbine coverage teemed with context. Entire stories addressed how the two teens could have acquired semi-automatic weapons and learned to make bombs. Other stories detailed the biographies of the two shooters--their employment, previous scrapes with authority, grades in school, their well-off parents and their fascination with Hitler. Columns of print were spent on whether the two were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or had a history of use. Both race and gender played a prominent part in coverage. Reporters were at pains to place the violence in relation to other school murders. However, costs, other than emotional trauma, were rarely discussed.
We did not tabulate context scores for the week of Columbine coverage because of the small number of episodic stories and the tendency to break those stories into smaller articles focusing on single aspects of the violence.
Clearly journalists can provide the resources citizens need to make sense of youth violence and chose to after a highly unusual and shocking event such as the Columbine massacre. But if our sample papers are representative, they generally fail to provide such information for the more common acts of violence that represent a much greater threat to the integrity of society. While routine coverage of crime carries more frames of cause and solution than Graber found 25 years ago, the ratio of thematic to episodic reports hasn't changed. Our study suggests that newspapers have applied little of what cognitive science has learned about audience processing of news.
The present study has several limitations. First, it was limited to three large, respected newspapers in only one state. While one might expect such newspapers to represent high quality reporting, it doesn't follow that smaller news organizations have also failed to adopt innovations in presenting news. Second, while youth violence is an important politically-relevant issue, it's only one issue. The quality of reporting on other topics may differ, perhaps better reflecting new ways of educating and activating audiences. Third, the historical comparison with Graber's work is inexact. There were some differences of sample and scope. Finally, this study demonstrates that coverage of the week after Columbine provided far greater resources to help citizens make sense of the event than did routine coverage of youth violence. This sample of three newspapers, however, merely "suggests" reporting improves following Columbine-type incidents. Before any firm conclusion can be made, additional analyses of multiple incidents would be required.
The coverage we analyzed betrayed a sense that the public already understands crimes such as domestic violence, gang behavior, homicide, rape, assault and burglary so well it has little need for context or for explanations of cause or solution. But an event such as Columbine requires both context and exploration of questions of why the incident happened and what can be done to prevent such events.
Passive, police-blotter reporting on violence, or reports that capture the emotions of fear and loss, but neglect causes, social effects and solutions have an ideological component. Framing is not a one-way street. As Price and Tewksbury point out, readers come to stories with their own frames. To the extent that a culture blames individuals and exempts their environment from culpability for violence, these terse stories that do not include causes may activate a default frame of personal responsibility in the reader. (31) In fact, people in the United States are so prone to place responsibility on the character of actors rather than on an interaction between character and environmental circumstances, social psychologists have named the tendency the FAE, or "fundamental attribution error." (32)
This individual-blame interpretation hides the well-documented contributions to violent behavior of concentrated poverty, inadequate schools, discrimination, dysfunctional or abusive parents, exposure to violence, lack of police enforcement, negative peer influences, over-commercialization of liquor, easy access to drugs and weapons and other environmental factors. (33) Unreported, these elements--most of which society can remedy--have far less chance to make an impression on public consciousness.
Obviously, few acts of violence merit Columbine-intensity coverage. What we question here is the assumption that the context and antecedents of more common types of violence need no exploration, that thematic stories examining causes--and particularly solutions--are only appropriate for aberrational violence such as Columbine.
Table 1 Causal Frames Appearing in 5 Percent or More of Youth Violence Stories in a Yearlong Newspaper Sample and During the Week Following the Columbine High School Shootings In the Yearlong Sample Frame % of stories Access to guns 7 Peer pressure from group 6 Peer isolation/harassment 6 Psychological disturbance 5 In the Columbine Sample Frame % of stories Peer isolation/harassment 29 Media violence 20 Poor parenting 18 Psychological disturbance 18 Access to guns 15 Peer pressure from group 12 Value erosion/culture of violence 11 Not media violence 6 Not value erosion/culture of violence 6 Isolation from adults 5 Not group peer pressure 5 Not psychological 5 Table 2 Solution Frames Appearing in 5 Percent or More of Youth Violence Stories in a Yearlong Newspaper Sample and During the Week Following the Columbine High School Shootings In Yearlong Sample Frame % of stories Greater law enforcement 8 In the Columbine sample Frame % of stories Gun control 19 More adult-youth contact/parenting 16 Treat at-risk kids 8 Prosecute parents 7 Reduce media violence 6 Violence prevention education 6 Not gun control 6 Greater law enforcement 5 Table 3: Context Items Appearing in Youth Violence Stories During the Yearlong Newspaper Sample Context element % of stories in which mentioned Type of violence 93 Weapon type 93 Perpetrator's relationship to victim 91 Was violence gang-related? 67 Victim's race 39 Perpetrator's race 39 Perpetrator's socio-economic status 28 Violence frequency in community 19 Presence/use of alcohol 14 Lost opportunities for victim 11 Presence/use of drugs 9 Costs to others in community 7 Family income lost 1 Medical costs 1 Court costs 1 Incarceration costs 1 Police costs 0
(1.) David Doi, "Media and Juvenile Violence: The Connecting Threads" Nieman Reports 52, no. 4 (1998): 35-36; S. Robert Lichter and Linda S. Lichter, "The Media at the Millennium: The Networks' Top Topics, Trends and Joke Targets of the 1990's," Media Monitor 14, no. 4 (2000); Mike A. Males, Framing Youth: 10 Myths About the Next Generation (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999); Paul Perrone and Meda Chesney-Lind, "Representations of Gangs and Delinquency: Wild in the Streets?" Social Justice 24, no. 4 (1997): 96-116.
(2.) Patricia Torbet and Linda Syzmanski, State Legislative Responses to Violent Juvenile Crime: 1996-97 Update (Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998).
(3.) Doris A. Graber, Crime News and the Public (New York: Praeger, 1980), 45.
(4.) Ibid., 73.
(6.) Vincent Price and David Tewksbury, "News Values and Public Opinion: A Theoretical Account of Media Priming and Framing," in Progress in Communication Sciences, eds. G. Barnett and F.J. Boster (Greenwich, Conn.: Ablex, 1997), 173-212.
(8.) The Field Institute, Field (California) Polls [machine-readable data files], "Prop. 22 Still Running Ahead" (San Francisco: The Field Institute, 2000; distributed by Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Data Archive, 29 February 2000).
(9.) Shanto Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
(10.) Ibid., 5.
(11.) William A. Gamson, Talking Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
(12.) Ibid., 35.
(13.) W. Russell Neuman, Marilyn R. Just, and Ann N. Crigler, Common Knowledge: News and the Construction of Political Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
(14.) Joel Best, Random Violence: How We Talk About New Crimes and New Victims (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999), xii.
(15.) Ibid., 25.
(16.) Lori Dorfman, Katie Woodruff, Vivian Chavez, and Lawrence Wallack, "Youth and Violence on Local Television News in California," American Journal of Public Health 87, no. 8 (1997): 1311-1316.
(17.) Renita Coleman and Esther Thorson, "The Effects of News Stories that Put Crime and Violence into Context: Testing the Public Health Model of Reporting," Journal of Health Communication 7, no. 3 (2002).
(18.) Daniel Riffe., Charles F. Aust, and Stephen R. Lacy, "The Effectiveness of Random, Consecutive Day and Constructed Week Sampling in Newspaper Content Analysis," Journalism Quarterly 70, no. 1 (1993): 133-139.
(19.) Our principal funder, The California Wellness Foundation, established this age limit to define the term "young people."
(20.) Robert M. Entman, "Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm," Journal of Communication 43, no. 4 (1993): 51-58.
(21.) Ibid., 52.
(22.) Jane Ellen Stevens, Reporting on Violence: A Handbook for Journalists (Berkeley, Calif.: Berkeley Media Studies Group, 1997).
(23.) The greatest margin of error for these point estimates is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points at the .05 confidence level. For classification of stories by topic, intercoder agreement was .86, calculated using Scott's Pi, a statistic that corrects for chance agreement.
(24.) Graber's 1976 study, by contrast, found "crime and justice" topics comprised 25 percent of the news in Chicago's daily newspapers. Graber included every story in the paper while we focused on those displayed or promoted on section fronts and on editorial pages. In addition, we focused on violence; her lens also took in non-violent crime.
(25.) Intercoder agreement, as measured with Scott's Pi, was .83. A chi-square test of difference between thematic and episodic frames in the yearlong sample, with one degree of freedom yields a statistic of 9.18, significant at the .01 confidence level. A second chi-square test of the difference between the yearlong sample and the actual count of stories in the week following Columbine yields a statistic of 21.2, significant at the .01 level with one degree of freedom.
(26.) Most of our analysis combines opinion and reporting pages because we were interested in the total informational package presented to readers.
(27.) Scott's Pi equaled .74. The margin of error around the point estimate of the most common nature of the problem frame in the yearlong sample is plus/minus 9 at the .05 level.
(28.) Stevens, Reporting on Violence.
(29.) Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 1991).
(30.) California Department of Justice, Crime and Delinquency in California, 1999 (Sacramento, Calif.: Division of Criminal Justice information Services, 1999).
(31.) Coleman and Thorson, "Public Health Model of Reporting," 10.
(32.) Lee Ross, "The Intuitive Psychologist and His Shortcomings" in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 10, ed. L. Berkowitz (New York: Academic Press, 1977).
(33.) Linda L. Dahlberg, "Youth Violence in the United States: Major Trends, Risk Factors, and Prevention Approaches," American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14, no. 4 (1998): 259-272; Liana B. Winett, "Constructing Violence as a Public Health Problem," Public Health Reports 113, no. 6 (1998): 498-507.
(34.) Intercoder agreement ranged from 1.0 to .84 using Scott's Pi. The largest margin of error around point estimates of frames in the yearlong sample is plus/minus 5 at the .05 confidence level. The Columbine week data are from a 100 percent sample, and thus free of sampling error.
(35.) Scott's Pi ranged from 1.0 to .84. The largest margin of error around point estimates of frames in the yearlong sample is plus/minus 5 at the .05 confidence level.
(36.) Scott's Pi ranged from 1.0 to .75 on all but the gang-related item, which was .68. Several other context items were dropped because of unacceptable reliability scores. These included how the weapon was obtained, the perpetrator's previous offenses and whether hate or racism was implicated. The largest margin of error among context items was plus/minus 12 points at the .05 confidence level. The n comprised only episodic stories from the yearlong sample.
McManus is a media researcher and Dorfman id the director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group at the University of California-Berkeley. The authors wish to thank The California Wellness Foundation for support of this research.…
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Publication information: Article title: Youth Violence Stories Focus on Events, Not Causes. Contributors: McManus, John - Author, Dorfman, Lori - Author. Journal title: Newspaper Research Journal. Volume: 23. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 2002. Page number: 6+. © 1999 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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