Crime and Local Television News: Dramatic, Breaking, and Live from the Scene

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L. Earlbaum Associates, 2002 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 173 pages
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This volume offers an analysis of crime coverage on local television, exploring the nature of local television news and the ongoing appeal of crime stories. Drawing on the perspectives of media studies, psychology, sociology, and criminology, authors Jeremy H. Lipschultz and Michael L. Hilt focus on live local television coverage of crime and examine its irresistibility to viewers and its impact on society's perceptions of itself. They place local television news in its theoretical and historical contexts, and consider it through the lens of legal, ethical, racial, aging, and technological concerns.

In its comprehensive examination of how local television newsrooms around the country address coverage of crime, this compelling work discusses such controversial issues as the use of crime coverage to build ratings, and considers new models for reform of local TV newscasts. The volume includes national survey data from news managers and content analyses from late night newscasts in a range of markets, and integrates the theory and practice of local television news into the discussion. Lipschultz and Hilt also project the future of local television news and predict the impact of social and technological changes on news.

As a provocative look at the factors and forces shaping local news and crime coverage, Crime and Local Television News makes an important contribution to the discussions taking place in broadcast journalism, mass communication, media and society, and theory and research courses. It will also interest all who consider the impact of local news content and coverage.

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Crime News Reporting: Beware the Formulaic!
Television news and a culture of fear go hand in hand all too often. Jeremy Lipshultz’s book, Crime and Local Television News examines the role that
crime coverage frequently plays in deluding and scaring its audiences. Crime news get more time and better timeslots because, to quote the old cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads.” It is comparatively easy to cover and is considered to attract viewers. Crime news often exaggerates the threat and frightens people and also frequently tends to support stereotypes about minorities in an underhanded way. News of local crime is essential but the manner in which stories are chosen and shared with the audience needs to change. Local crime needs to be broadcast in context rather than a sensationalistic “You Could Be Next” mentality.
Crime stories are easy to cover when compared with many other types of stories. There is a good guy and a bad guy and a story of a dramatic confrontation. There is violence and people get hurt. The authorities respond with a display of power and the bad guy either dies, escapes, or is captured. The formula is simple and doesn’t change much from place to place. This approach allows reporters with limited knowledge of an area to succeed with a flashy story. The formula helps “homogenize news rather than diversify it” (11). The problem with all this success is that it has a hidden cost. Following a formula and possessing limited knowledge about crime statistics and the local area produces sensationalism to fill the gaps in the news story. Crime stories are easy to cover when the reporters blindly follow a formula and make poor or nonexistent attempts at placement within a context. The people watching the shows often perceive the exaggerated insinuation of crime rates as real through social construction of reality. The result is an audience that is either fearful and depressed or skeptical and disgusted at the presentation of the story.
There are immense pressures on news organizations to cover crime in an attention-grabbing manner. The corporate bosses of the journalists push them to seek the drama of violent crime to hype their newscasts. They do this because they know that their station has to compete with multiple other stations for a limited regional audience. They know that channel surfers will often stop on a scene of carnage out of the intrinsic curiosity of the human herd. If they can attract all the viewers possible their ratings will climb and their jobs will be secure. Nevertheless, graphic videos of violence are usually withheld and shots of a reporter on the scene with dramatic video affects and eye catching icons and titles are used instead. The whole event is repackaged in a way that is meant to be scary but not to be so gruesome as to inspire complaints. This trend is alive and well today and examples can often be found as the leading story of a newscast.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States includes the words “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” It is legal for journalists to tell a story in almost any way that includes the basic tenets of the truth of the matter, though there are of course guidelines directing what will be beneficial to the news organization. Before those guidelines there are the considerations of ethics and media accountability. When there are choices regarding what stories are covered, what videos are used, and what stories are promoted the most, it is vital that decisions are made from an ethical viewpoint rather than from a business stance. The welfare of the audience must take precedent over the pocketbooks of the owners and if ethical guidelines are followed and honest hard work is done, both will benefit.
It is interesting to look at how local news deals with the punishment of violent criminals. In general, much more attention is put on the crime than on the punishment. When the punishment is a prison term the coverage usually halts shortly after the term has begun, due to
 

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