Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Impact of Television Viewing on Perceptions of Juvenile Crime

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Impact of Television Viewing on Perceptions of Juvenile Crime

Article excerpt

The news media's coverage of crime has been extensively studied, although only recently has attention focused more narrowly on considerations of juvenile crime (Gilliam & Bales, 2003; Gilliam & lyengar, 2005; Solar, 2001; Wilson, Colvin, & Smith, 2002). Adult crime dominates television news, but Yanich (1999) found that almost one third of the crime stories focused on juvenile crime, that most of these stories focused on violent crime (particularly murder), and that nearly 80% were covered in the first block of the newscast. In a recent review, Dorfman and Schiraldi (2001) outlined four major findings related to news coverage of crime and their implications for juvenile crime: (a) News coverage of crime is not connected to actual crime rates and focuses largely on violent crime; (b) news coverage of crime is episodic, focusing on individual crimes as isolated events; (c) news coverage of crime connects race and crime, particularly violent crime and particularly on television; and (d) youth are rarely in the news, and when they are it is usually in the context of violence.

Here, the impact of television news and reality-based crime programming on perceptions of juvenile crime are considered. Questions regarding the impact of news coverage of juvenile crime stories have received increased attention in the literature and as part of a broader reform movement aimed at overhauling state juvenile justice systems (Cullen, Golden, & Cullen, 1983; Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001; Gilliam & Bales, 2003; Gilliam & lyengar, 2005; Mattinson & Mirrlees-Black, 2000). Although several studies have conducted content analyses of the portrayal of juvenile crime in local and network television news (Yanich, 1999), to date few studies have examined the effects of television news viewing on citizen attitudes toward juvenile justice. Similarly, content analyses of reality-based crime programs demonstrate a propensity to feature violent crimes out of proportion with actual crime rates (Oliver, 1994). No known research, however, has focused on the effect of reality-based crime programs on perceptions of juvenile crime. We attempt to fill this gap in the literature by considering the impact of individual television viewing, including television news and reality-based programming such as Cops and America's Most Wanted, on perceptions of juvenile crime.

Literature Review

In the previous literature, scholars have connected patterns of crime-related news coverage to misperceptions of crime rates, exaggerated fear of crime, and racial stereotyping of both criminal perpetrators and victims (Barnett, 2003; Roberts, 1992; Tamborini, Zillmann, & Bryant, 1984; Windhauser & Seiter, 1990). For example, it is widely accepted that coverage of crime during the 1990s increased even as crime rates declined and that this distortion was particularly evident with respect to violent crime (Doi, 1998; Yanich, 1999). Murders, for example, make up over one quarter of all reported crimes, despite the fact that the incidence of murder is quite low (Gilliam, lyengar, Simon, & Wright, 1996). Murders are more newsworthy than burglaries, so to some extent the focus on violent crime can be justified by traditional news values that emphasize sensational and dramatic news stories (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001). To the extent that citizens rely on the news to develop their understanding of "the real world," however, such coverage presents a distorted and troubling image.

Coverage of juvenile crime has been less frequently studied but has also been shown to have a disconnect with reality as measured by juvenile crime rates (Dorfman & Schiraldi, 2001; Yanich, 1999). In an extensive analysis of crime rates and media coverage in Hawaii, for example, Perrone and Chesney-Lind (1998) demonstrated that media coverage of juvenile crime increased as juvenile crime rates declined. Yet, if it is known that patterns of media coverage of juvenile and adult crime are often disconnected from the reality of actual crime rates, there is a more limited understanding of the role the media may play in shaping individual perceptions of juvenile crime. …

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