Mass Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice


I. Introduction

II. The Importance of Market Demands in Mass Media Production

A. The Market and Public Sphere Dichotomy

B. Market-Based Criteria and Media Assessments of “Newsworthiness”

C. The Market Model and Entertainment Media

III. Organizational Factors Intrinsic to Media Production

A. News Themes

B. Reliance on Official Sources of Information

IV. Effects of Media Coverage of Crime

A. Moral Panics

B. Fear of Crime

V. Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Crime and justice issues have been a stable fixture of mass media portrayal of American society. From the 1920s onward, crime appeared very frequently in tabloid journalism, especially in the context of photographic accounts of crime scenes. Since television became popularized in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, crime has been featured extensively on television programming, including both entertainment and news programming. In terms of local television news, coverage of crime has intensified as local stations have shifted to “eyewitness” and “action news” formats (which rely on live, from-the-scene footage) beginning in the 1970s (Lipschultz, & Hilt, 2002). Crime also occupies a prominent position on many of the “infotainment”-oriented cable news network programs (on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC) that infuse entertainment elements with news elements.

This research paper focuses attention on mass media and crime and justice. This topic is very broad and encompasses too many multifaceted aspects to cover them all in the space that a research paper provides. Media and crime studies have covered such diverse issues as the sheer volume of crime coverage by mass media (relative to other topics), the ideological content of mass media artifacts concerning crime and justice, how media organizations select certain crimes for coverage, the impact of media coverage on high-profile criminal trials, the impact of crime coverage on public opinion and public policy, and the impact of mass media consumption on how fearful a person is with respect to his or her likelihood of victimization, to name a few. In addition, research has been done on news media and crime (relating to newspapers, national news programs, local television news programs), entertainment media and crime (relating to television programs, movies, songs, etc.), and “infotainment” media and crime.

This research paper will focus broadly on mass media and crime and justice. First, the paper identifies a framework within which mass media behavior can be understood— from a market-oriented perspective. Distinctions between the market and public sphere models of mass media are noted. Justifications are next provided as to why it is logical to believe that market-oriented concerns have trumped public-sphere-oriented concerns in the production of mass media artifacts. This section of the paper also illustrates how market-oriented concerns impact media decisions by discussing perspectives and research on “newsworthiness” criteria used by journalists. This section concludes with the application of the market model framework to research on entertainment media decision making.

Second, media decision making is assessed from the perspective of organizational imperatives of the mass media organization. This discussion is framed in the context of news organizations. This section focuses on how journalists create “news themes” in the reporting of news and how journalists are reliant on official sources of information. Third, research on the effects of media coverage of crime is discussed. Here, research on the concept of “moral panics” is presented. Finally, research on the link between media consumption and fear of crime is discussed.

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