The Los Angeles Times database provided story information for example, section of paper, page number, number of words, publication date as well as homicide data from state and county offices including the California Department of Justice, Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner, and Los Angeles County Municipal and Superior Courts. The state and county offices provided information on victims and suspects including age, gender, ethnicity, and relationship.
The sample of articles used for this study was chosen by stratifying the homicide articles using two variables: ethnicity of the victim Asian, black, Hispanic, white and relationship of the victim to the suspect acquaintance, child, gang, intimate, stranger.
Stories about Hispanic victims, who constitute the largest ethnic group of homicide victims reported in the Los Angeles Times , were used as index cases for matching purposes. Forty five Hispanic victim articles were randomly selected, 10 from each adult relationship category—acquaintance, gang, intimate, and stranger—and five from the child category. The number of stories about the homicide of a child is less simply because fewer such articles were published.
Articles for the Asian, black, and white strata were obtained by matching on two variables, victim-suspect relationship and publication date, using stories published as closely as possible in time to those about Hispanic victims. Because fewer stories were published about Asian and white homicide victims, a match could not be found for each index article. Table 1 reports the strata and numbers of the articles selected. Newspaper articles by sample strata: victim ethnicity and victim-suspect relationship. Copies of the selected articles were made from microfiche and news coverage variables were abstracted.
All articles went through two full reviews by independent coders graduate students. After the first review, variable definitions were refined and a second review was conducted. Some variation between reviews was expected due to coder subjectivity as well as slight alteration of definitions due to refinement.
This study focused on two aspects of covering a homicide story—prominence in the newspaper and story frame. Three of the variables used to assess an article's prominence were taken directly from the Los Angeles Times database—section of the paper, page in section, and number of words—while two were abstracted from article copies. These included the placement of an article on a page above or below the fold and whether photographs were included in a story.
Story framing goes beyond the facts of a homicide to add depth to the persons involved, provide a social context, and provide an overall angle on how to think and feel about an incident. The following story frame variables were abstracted from the sample of articles and coded dichotomously according to the process described above: 1 victim background, 2 suspect background, 3 issue background, 4 use of a hook, 5 focus of the story, 6 genre, and 7 tone.
Victim and suspect background were coded as positive when any descriptive information was provided about the victim or suspect beyond basic facts such as age, gender, and race or ethnicity.
Similarly, if there was any mention of the broader social context and issues of concern related to the homicide, then issue background was coded positively. A hook was defined as a first or second sentence in an article that focused on a catchy human interest element to the story rather than on facts. Hooks are used to draw a reader into a story. Each story was coded to indicate whether or not it had a hook. The focus of a story was categorized as episodic or thematic. A story was coded as episodic if it focused on a particular incident or incidents rather than on the broader issue.
To be classified as thematic, a story had to focus on a broader issue of which the fatal violence was a part for example, child abuse, gang violence. For example, a thematic article might embed a gang homicide incident within a larger story about the history of gang violence in a particular neighborhood or a child's death within a story about the larger issue of child abuse. Genre was coded as primarily factual or opinion based.
Stories were coded as factual when journalists primarily transmitted unattributed statements and relatively objective facts. In contrast, stories were coded as opinion based when they were dominated by quotes from any sources or subjective personal descriptions that is, beyond demographics , or when they were mainly issue narratives that is, more like story telling than fact telling. These are subjective because other persons might not have perceived the person or situation in the same way, thus, it is information that gives the story a selected angle.
Tone was classified as non-emotional or emotional. Stories were coded as non-emotional if feelings were not transmitted in the coverage.
Stories were considered emotional if one or more sources, generally personal, raised feelings such as sadness, loss, or shock in the story. Descriptive statistics were generated to provide general information about the sampled homicide articles. Multivariate analyses were conducted using binary, ordinal, and categorical logistic regression equations modeled to test the relationship between the two predictors victim ethnicity and victim-suspect relationship and the identified newspaper coverage variables.
Stories with white victims and victims whose assailants were strangers were chosen as the reference groups since these victims tend to be more represented in the news than others. The majority of sampled homicide articles were printed in the second section of the newspaper on page one or two of that section see table 2. Most stories Most articles did not report on the victim's or the suspect's background, nor were background issues discussed.
Most articles did not contain a hook Additionally, half of the homicides were murder-robberies In the following results sections, findings of substantive importance will be described as well as those that reached statistical significance.
The prominence or visibility of a homicide story was generally not associated with victim ethnicity see table 3. Homicides of child and gang victims were given the most visibility overall in the newspaper, although none of these associations were statistically significant. Gang homicide stories were more likely than others to appear in the first section of the newspaper Child victim stories were more likely than others to be printed on page one As shown in table 4, white and Asian victims were more likely to have a story with a positive or more descriptive frame.
Although of substantive interest, none of these associations were statistically significant. Articles about white homicide victims were more likely to discuss the victim's background White Overall, stories regarding child and gang homicide victims appear to have been framed with more of a human interest angle than those concerning other homicide victims.
In contrast, stories about intimate partner homicides were less likely to have humanistic story frames. These articles rarely discussed background issues 3. They were also rarely thematic 3. Consistent with the simple cross tabulation findings, newspaper coverage that is, prominence and story frame was not statistically associated with victim ethnicity when victim-suspect relationship was taken into consideration see table 5.
However, some of the findings may be of substantive interest. In contrast, victim-suspect relationship predicted aspects of coverage more frequently, particularly the way in which a story was framed. Coverage differed most consistently for one type of relationship—intimate partner homicides. In comparison with stranger homicide articles, those concerning intimate victims had less overall visibility and more perfunctory story frames than the others examined.
Nine out of 12 adjusted odds ratios indicated lower likelihoods of prominence and descriptive, humanistic story frames for intimate victim articles; three of these findings were statistically significant.
Findings for other types of relationships will be presented first. Two of these findings were statistically significant. Child victim homicides also tended to be given greater prominence and more descriptive story frames, with two thirds of the variables examined having adjusted odds ratios greater than 1. Stories about child homicide victims were 6.
The overall picture for intimate partner homicide stories stood in contrast to all other victim-suspect categories.
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Seventy five per cent of the examined variables had adjusted odds ratios less than 1, suggesting that overall, these articles were less visible and less likely to have a descriptive, humanistic story frame. Thus, despite the fact that most of the intimate homicide victims in these articles were women, the one article with a thematic story frame focused on male victims of abuse. One factor commonly believed to be related to news coverage is ethnicity. Previous research has documented the association between victim ethnicity and whether a homicide is covered at all.
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Ethnicity of the homicide victim, when victim-suspect relationship was taken into consideration, was not related to the nature of coverage in a large, metropolitan newspaper. Homicide reporting differed by victim-suspect relationship, even when victim ethnicity was taken into account.
The most consistent differences were observed in how articles about homicides by intimate partners compared to those about homicides by strangers. Gang related and child homicides were also covered differently, while those committed by acquaintances were covered very similarly to homicides by strangers. Stories about intimate homicide victims were less likely to be given a human interest angle through the use of opinions and emotional tones, or by opening with sentences that would hook the reader. Articles about gang homicides were more likely to appear in the first section of the newspaper and also to address broader issues related to the homicide.
Moreover, the sole story that discussed domestic violence as an issue focused on women's violence against men, a type of violence that is less likely to result in injury than men's violence against women. The nature of news media coverage generally reflects a combination of economic pressures and the professional values of the journalist. Because this study reports on news articles that were published before the O J Simpson case, one might wonder whether news reporting on domestic violence has shifted since the news media rediscovered domestic violence.
Accordingly, Maxwell et al also found that most coverage continued to focus blame and responsibility on individual rather than social solutions. Whereas the amount of media coverage may be proportional to the level of attention an issue receives, the nature of the coverage is important in determining the type of attention it gets.
News story frames influence how people think about issues and how they assign responsibility for causes and solutions. Nonetheless, episodic coverage is five times more common than thematic coverage of violence in television news. Not only can framing have an impact on public opinion, but it can also have a direct or indirect influence on policy decisions for example, Gandy et al , 20 Feigenson and Bailis, 31 and Jones Many factors may contribute to how a story is reported in the news media.
The focus of the present investigation focused on two key victim variables. Whereas victim-suspect relationship was a consistent predictor of the nature of homicide coverage, it is important to keep in mind that a number of potential confounders were not examined.