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Media should devote more time to community stories and less time on crime

Stories of crime floods television screens regularly and local news is subject to it as well. The news seemingly dedicates itself more to stories of destruction rather than stories of community involvement and concern or global issues. The results from the over representation of crime and violence leads to a poorly informed audience, whose concerns lie with fear, rather than rationale. Furthermore, this type of representation only helps to support false stereotypes behind criminals in society.

The idea that television viewing helps to shape the fear of violence in the world is not an entirely new concept. The Cultivation Theory of George Gerbner, which may be found in Em Griffin’s seventh edition of A First Look at Communication Theory, helps to frame this concept. Gerbner found that the more television an individual watched, the more likely they were to hold unrealistic fears of risk in the world. Gerbner frames “dramatic violence” as the physical violence seen on television. We see this dramatic violence as local news clips replay the same images of a gas station robbery copious amounts of times. In fact, it can be difficult to find a television station, news or not, which does not display some form of physical violence (such as in the form of abuse or high-speed car chases). Gerbner used a specific method to assess viewers and their relation to fear of worldly risk. “Heavy viewers” watched at least four hours of television per any given day. “Light viewers” viewed about two hours of television in any given day. The heavy viewers were found to hold more fears of risk when, statistically speaking, the risk they fear rarely occurs. This creates a “mean world syndrome,” which Gerbner explains is a cynical view of the world, in which there is a lack of trust given to strangers. This syndrome affects the heavy viewers most. So when an individual avidly watches television news broadcasts, and they constantly see stories pertaining to crime, what should they think? Regardless what thoughts they should hold, they will be most likely to assume that the world is a scary place.

This notion set up by Gerbner seems sound enough, but to support that the fears are irrational (due to a false belief in a considerable amount of crime), Danilo Yanich’s work Crime Creep: Urban and Suburban Crime on Local TV News is presented. Yanich claims that viewers of local news find that there should be an increase in law enforcement to stop crimes in their communities. The public’s perception is one of a violent world. Crime rates were actually down at the time of Yanich’s study, and yet the news coverage of crime was at an all time high for suburban areas. Why would the news feel the need to devote more time to crime coverage when it actually holds little pertinence in relation to the crime rates? What may be worse are the reports of the public unknowingly following the news stories and placing reliability and credibility upon them. The public was reported to have committed to the local news because the news was supposedly doing well with coverage. If this were true, they why do Pastore & Maguire report in Yanich’s work that the public placed large concern on safety when crime rates had been down in the previous decade? Yanich further reports that policy makers are finding a large quantity of crime reports in local news, essentially overburdening the coverage. Finally, Yanich’s work ties beautifully to Gerbner’s theory model, because of the abundance of pictures in the news. As explained before, when viewers see repeated images of violence, they will be more likely to believe that there is increased violence in the world. This fear however, is not consistent with the statistics of crime.
The argument for less crime displayed in local news also calls upon the misrepresentation of minorities. Dixon and Linz report in Mastro, Lapinski, Kopacz, and Behm-Morawitz’s work entitled The Influence of Exposure to Depictions of Race and Crime in TV News on Viewer’s Social Judgements, that evidence indicated that crime is usually displayed with a minority face, thereby increasing the irrational fear of minority races, especially for young, black males. At the same time, the news does not adequately depict the white criminals in correlation with the crimes committed, because the white population is so often viewed as the victim. Dixon, Azocar, and Casas also report in the work of Mastro et al., by describing how the U.S. Department of Labor actually reports inconsistent statistics in relation to race. There are not as many black male criminals as is suggested by the local news. These inconsistencies help to mitigate the crimes of whites. Tying these statistics back with Yanich’s work, one can see how the over representation of a certain race in pictures used in news can help the public determine false fears of races, furthering the support for Gerbner’s model of a violent and risky world.

So why has this happened? Why is this over-representation of crime in the news still occurring? Yanich claims that crime fulfills the want for drama and excitement. Without this crime, there is a fear of producing dead news, appealing to no one. This appeal however, is causing the world to live life with grim colored glasses, unfit to realistically represent the modern world. Beyond the weather, people want a thrill, and the news is providing it, regardless the repercussions.

So how should the media companies change their approaches to delivering news and information? For starters, they should keep the amount of crime story coverage to a minimum and cut petty crimes completely. In order to keep the news interesting and pertinent to the public, the news should replace the unnecessary crime stories with those of global concerns, so as to advance the sphere of interest beyond that of one community. They could furthermore report more on community affairs. Each news broadcast should host stories from the local community relating specifically to progression. The pedantic styling of crime coverage has taken over, and now it is high time to devote more coverage to the positive aspects surrounding the communities, and the public should be well informed of the positive just as they are of the negative.

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