Media representations of crime

Crime and deviance make up a large proportion of news coverage. However, the media give a distorted image of crime, criminals and policing.

News Values and Crime Coverage

The social construction of the news the distorted picture of crime painted by the news and media reflects the fact that news is a social construction. Cohen and Young say that media is manufactured. News doesn’t simply exist ‘out there’ waiting to be gathered in and written up by the journalist. Instead, it is the outcome of a social process whereby some potential stories are selected whilst others are rejected.

News values a key element in the social construction of news is the concept of ‘news values’ – the criteria that journalists and editors use in order to decide whether a story is newsworthy enough to make it into the newspapers. If a crime story can be told in terms of these news values, it has a better chance of making the news. Key news values influencing the selection of crime include dramatization, personalisation, violence and risk.

Fictional representations of crime

Fictional representations from TV, cinema and novels are also important sources of our knowledge of crime, because so much of their output is crime related. Fictional representations follow Surette’s ‘law of opposites’; they are the opposite of the official statistics-and strikingly similar to news coverage. Property crime is under-represented, while violence, drugs and sex crimes are over-represented and fictional cops usually get their man. However, there are recent trends: reality shows tend to feature young, non-white ‘underclass’ offenders.