in LPRC Reports

Media Reports of Crime in Retail Settings Analysis Johns Scicchitano Hayes 2005

Media Representations of Crime in Retail Settings
A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times showed that people’s feelings about crime are based 65% on what they read and see in the media and only 21% on their actual experiences with crime (Altheide 1997). Indeed, social scientists and communications experts increasingly argue that the sheer overload of stories about crime in the media, and especially on television newscasts, is giving the public a warped view of reality. Since most people have very little first-hand experience of crime and the criminal justice system, their beliefs about crime are largely based on information derived from second-hand sources – especially the news media (Budiansky 1996). Because the media regularly distort crime by over representing ‘more severe, intentional, and gruesome incidents,’ the public often overestimates the frequency and severity of crime and, in turn, misperceives its reality (Heath and Gilbert 1996).
Despite the fact that crime rates, and violent crime rates, in the U.S. have dropped or held steady for decades, extensive media coverage of crime persists. Media reports of crime tend to focus only on particular incidents of crime (usually sensational or unusual crimes), rather than more routine aspects of criminality. Thus, the media coverage of violent crime tends to enhance the potential for readers to perceive the remarkable incidents of crime as typical examples, or instances (Best 1999). Survey results indicate, for example, that the public believes crime is rampant, except in their own neighborhoods and communities, primarily because of the way the media present ‘news’ (Doi 1998).