How Do Newspapers Influence Fear Of Young People Criminology Essay

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Despite a large amount of research into the fear of crime, including possible links between media reports of crime and the fear of such crime taking place, there is much that is not known and that requires examination, especially when it comes to fear of crime in relation to young people. Violent crime committed by young people features heavily in newspapers, often with graphically shocking stories and images. The purpose of this research is to use framing analysis to attempt to draw light on the influence of national newspaper upon the fear people feel of young people and youth crime. Numerous interesting findings emerged from this research...

Introduction (1007/2,000 - 3,000)

Fear is a necessary psychological response which is required to deal with dangerous situations. As with other animals, humans have acquired this important psychological reaction to threatening stimuli through evolutionary development (Marmot & Wilkinson, 2006). Without such a heightened response to threats humans would face dangerous situations without any concerns for protecting themselves or minimising the risks, which could render them vulnerable (Solomon 2006: 29). Crime is a threat to humans and therefore some fear of it is necessary. Removing all such fear would be a bad idea (Warr, 2000) as it could cause people to take unnecessary risks (Sacco, 2005: 138).

Although having a fear of crime is necessary it is important that such fear is not out of scale with the actual threat (Garafalo, 1981). There are physical, emotional and social consequences to an exaggerated sense of threat from crime. Response to threats creates an increase in neurotransmitters and adrenal hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which enable the brain and body to react more quickly to form a defence or escape (Curtis & O'Keefe, 2002) (often referred to as the 'fight or flight response' or 'general adaptation syndrome') by creating a temporary rise in blood pressure - providing increased blood flow to muscles that are associated with running or fighting, pupil dilation to increase visual information and more acute hearing. When these neurotransmitters are kept at an increased level for long periods it is a matter of concern because this can cause physical and psychological health problems (Lozovaya & Miller, 2003) such as cardiovascular complications (Curtis & O'Keefe, 2002), anxiety disorders, sleep disturbance, paranoia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One might think that those that would fear violent crime the most would be those who have been victims of it themselves and it is certainly true that a recent victim of violent crime is likely to have a heightened fear of such violence occurring again (Jackson & Gray 2010) but the social effects of such crimes are not restricted to those directly victimised (Ferraro, 1995), thus, there can be fear of such crime without ever having been a victim of it. In fact, in some cases - particularly among the elderly or vulnerable - crimes indirectly experienced by one's friends, family, or neighbours have been shown to be more likely to produce fear than experiencing such crimes first-hand (Yin, 1980.) Therefore, it is not too great a leap of thinking to consider that indirectly experiencing such crimes in the form of reading about them in newspapers is also likely to raise levels of fear - particularly when one is exposed to such stories over a prolonged period of time.

David Altheide (2002) describes how the media creates a heightened feeling of fear and dangerousness and correlations have been found between the coverage of crime in newspaper reports and fear of crime (Williams & Dickinson, 1993). If the newspaper coverage of the level and intensity of violent crime committed by young people is out of proportion with reality then this could also exasperate any negative effect on those who are the potential victims of such crime - as well as young people in general due to finding themselves perceived as a threat. Not only has the amount of newspaper coverage devoted to violent youth crime been shown to be linked to a fear of such crime (Williams & Dickinson, 1993) but it is possible that the language used to describe young people in such stories may have a detrimental effect on young people and create alarm (Cohen & Young, 1981; Jenkins, 1992; Welch, Price & Yankey, 2002.)

This study therefore examines the influence of the UK national newspapers upon people's perceptions of violent youth crime levels as well as the influence on their general perceptions of young people. In doing so the aim is to discover whether any such influence could be having a detrimental effect on the level of fear of young people and violent youth crime.

Although a quantitative approach may produce more specific results relating to the number of people affected by media reports of youth crime a qualitative approach provides a more detailed and deeper wealth of information concerning how the people involved are represented, which is possibly more relevant when examining media influence of fear (Reese, Gandy & Grant, 2003.) Therefore, this study uses a mixed method approach - a qualitative analysis of the texts followed by a quantitative analysis of the data produced by it.

A key approach when examining media influence is to employ analysis of media content as a means of obtaining detailed information about it rather than just assuming a direct effect on its readers (Giles & Shaw, 2009). There are several methods of analysing such content, including, discourse analysis, grounded theory and narrative analysis but none of these methods were specifically designed for analysing media material (Giles & Shaw, 2009).

One method that was specifically designed for analysing media material is Media Framing Analysis, which examines media content in the form of frames (Goffman, 1974; Giles & Shaw, 2009). Frames are constructed from the perceptions and interpretations of social situations, often built around stereotypes and emotional filters that have developed over time (Goffman, 1974; Giles & Shaw, 2009; Reber & Reber, 2001). By analysing frames within media materials such as newspaper articles one can gain a great deal of insight into their content and thus how the people and situations in the articles are represented in less express, latent constructions as well as in the more obvious, manifest ones.

This study used the four stages specified by Robert Entman (1991, 1993) which he used to analyse U.S. media frames in reports of two analogous 1980s plane crashes - the only differences being who was flying the plane and who was shooting at it - one was framed as being the result of deliberate aggression and the other as nothing more than an accident. The stages used in analysis by Entman (1991, 1993) were - Agency: who is doing what to whom, Identification: with the people in the stories, Categorisation: the use of descriptive adjectives, and Generalization: relating ideas and themes to those in other news stories.

Tversky and Kahneman's (1981) work on the design of positive or negative 'message frames' and their influence on decision-making

Method (1,000 - 2,000)

Methods of data collection and analysis

A search was performed using the Nexis® UK database - an electronic database of newspaper articles - with search terms relating to young people ("youth, youths, young people, teenager/s, adolescent, boy or girl") for national newspaper stories from the six month period from January to June (inclusive) in 2009. This initially produced 5,387 articles, but this was reduced by picking 240 articles (40 for each month) using random sampling software (Shaw, 2007). Any extraneous and irrelevant articles were then removed. For example one article was about fashion and only mentioned young people in one sentence and so was not deemed relevant.

The remaining articles were then analysed to see how they 'framed' young people in order to discover how the stories portrayed them in relation to violent crime and whether such portrayals were misleading.

Frames were identified from a careful reading of the stories (see table 1). They were "Society and Family Breakdown" - stories that frame youth violence as a result of a breakdown of society, loss of community or family breakdown, loss of adult authority, failure of local authorities, and "youth's running wild". "Criminal Justice Effectiveness" - stories that frame the effectiveness of courts, police and the law. "Peer Influenced Violence" -stories that frame gangs and groups of young people as the causes of violence. "Community and Youth Solutions" - stories that frame the community or young people themselves as finding solutions to youth violence.

discrete (episodic) frames concentrating on isolated incidents

thematic frames examining a broader context

Stories of youth crime/violence and child abuse/neglect consistently failed to report relevant public policy and contextual information. Less than 1/20 stories in these categories provided information to relate "breaking news" to broader social patterns.

Table 1




Society and Family Breakdown


Articles that frame youth violence as a result of a breakdown of society, loss of community, and family breakdown.

Loss of adult authority

Failure of schools

Failure of local authorities

Criminal Justice Ineffectiveness


Articles that frame the ineffectiveness of courts, policing, and the law as a cause of youth violence.

Length of sentences

Police effectiveness


Peer Influenced Violence


Articles that frame gangs and groups of young people as the causes of violence.

"Youths running wild"


Community & Youth Solutions


Articles that frame the community or young people themselves as finding solutions to youth violence.

In addition to these frames the following themes were also identified: Gang-related violence, Weapons and Firearms, Unprovoked Assault, Assault With Theft, Drugs/Alcohol, Prevention, Police, Law, Imprisonment, Conviction, Community, Trial, Children in Care, Injury, Homicide, TV/Computer Games, Anti-social Behaviour.

In particular the four stages identified by Entman (1991, 1993), Agency, Identification, Categorisation, and Generalisation were used.

Categorise stories by type of frame (work out percentages for each frame) then analyse articles sentence by sentence and identify "themes". Clustered into Causes, Actors, outcomes, strategies.

Comparisons were made to reported crime statistics from the Office of National Statistics and the British Crime Survey in order to ascertain whether the depiction of violent youth crime in the media was accurate and justified.


Two Hundred and Forty articles from January to June in 2009 (40 for each month) were sampled, using random sampling software (Shaw, 2007), from the Nexis® UK database with search terms relating to young people ("youth, youths, young people, teenager/s, adolescent, boy or girl").

The documents were then converted into plain text (txt) documents ready for importing into Weft QDA, a generic, public domain, CAQDAS, "code and retrieve" software package. Words and phrases corresponding to the criteria were marked (text was selected) and coded using, Weft QDA, into Frames (see table 2) and then analysed sentence by sentence to check for themes (see table).

Statistical analysis was performed to cross tabulate data on Frames with that of themes and a chi square test was performed to check the statistical significance of the results.

Articles Mentioning

Society and Family Breakdown

Criminal Justice Effectiveness

Peer Influenced Violence

Community & Youth Solutions

Chi Square


Effect Size

Gang-related violence



Weapons and Firearms














TV/Computer Games

Anti-social Behaviour

Results (477/4,000)

Using framing analysis (Goffman, 1974; Giles & Shaw, 2009), a means that is context sensitive, the aim of this study was to examine the representation of young people in relation to violent youth crime in national newspaper stories. Particular attention was given to the language and structure used to create "scenes" that may misrepresent young people or have possible negative influences on beliefs about the nature and level of such crimes. In addition four stages, as devised by Entman (1991, 1993), were used to analyse frames. These were, Agency: who is doing what to whom, Identification: with the people in the stories, Categorisation: the use of descriptive adjectives, and Generalization: relating ideas and themes to those in other news stories. In order to ascertain if there are inaccuracies within the news media reports of violent youth crime - which may bring about a media-generated, disproportional level of fear of such crimes occurring - the quantity and types of violent youth crime written about in the national news media were compared to official statistics of such crimes.

Various criticisms have been made of previous research relating to fear of crime, with much of the criticism being directed towards the quantitative nature of the majority of research not producing enough rich information about such fear, its diverseness or cognitive content and the actual extent of its affects on people's lives (Vanderveen, 2006.) Further qualitative research, including questionnaires, focus groups, and structured interviews could extend knowledge relating to the affects of such fear as well as uncovering possible individual differences.

Very little data on crime committed by those less than 16 years old...

In 2008/2009 the BCS introduced questions to their survey asking respondents to rate how they felt crime had increased or decreased nationally and locally. The results showed that a greater number of people thought crime had increased nationally than thought crime had increased locally (Home Office, 2010.) This may simply be because people generally have a greater knowledge of what is happening in their local area, due to personal experience, than they do nationally. It is not really possible to have a direct knowledge of events taking place elsewhere in the UK.

Most people get their knowledge of crime levels and crimes committed outside of their local area from the national news, including stories in national newspapers. The evidence for this can be seen by the fact that people perceive the levels of high profile crimes that are reported in the national newspapers, such as knife crime, to be higher nationally than locally (Home Office, 2010.) and this is especially so for those that read tabloids and 'popular' newspapers rather than broadsheets (Janson et al, 2007; Moon et al, 2009.) It can be seen from this that newspapers are a powerful but not necessarily accurate way for people to get information about rates of violent crime.

-Table to show Frame by Theme - to show if stories relating to certain themes are presented through different frames.

also which frame was used the most

Graph to show if stories are discrete or thematic

Graph to show different papers as...

Discussion (0/1,000-3,000)

This rise was confirmed by a later study comparing coverage of crime in 10 national daily

newspapers for four weeks from 19 June 1989 (Williams and Dickinson 1993). 'On

average, 12.7% of event-oriented news reports were about crime' (ibid.: 40). The

proportion of space devoted to crime was greater the more 'downmarket' the

newspaper. The smallest proportion of crime news was 5.1 per cent in the Guardian;

the largest was 30.4 per cent in the Sun (ibid.: 41).

A historical study examined a random sample of issues of The Times and the Mirror

for each year between 1945 and 1991 (Reiner et al. 2000, 2001, 2003; Reiner 2001). It

found a generally upward (albeit fluctuating) trend in the proportion of stories focused

on crime in both newspapers (from under 10 per cent in the 1940s to over 20 per cent

in the 1990s). The sharpest increase occurred during the late 1960s, when the average

annual proportion of crime stories almost doubled, from around 10 per cent to around

20 per cent in both papers. In both papers the proportion of stories about the criminal

justice system, as distinct from the commission of criminal offences, has clearly

increased since the Second World War. Criminal justice stories were on average 2 per

cent of all stories in the Mirror between 1945 and 1951, and 3 per cent in The Times. By

1985-91 the average had increased to 6 per cent in the Mirror, and 9 per cent in The


In conclusion, deviance and control in a broad sense are the very stuff of news.

However, stories about the commission of particular offences are more common in

'popular' news outlets (although for official or corporate crime the reverse is true). The

proportion of news devoted to crime and criminal justice has increased over the last


Reiner, LIVINGSTONE, S., and ALLEN, J. (2000), 'No More

Happy Endings? The Media and Popular Concern

About Crime Since the Second World War', in

T. Hope and R. Sparks (eds), Crime, Risk and

Insecurity, 107-25, London: Routledge.

--, --, and -- (2001), 'Casino Culture: Media

and Crime in a Winner-Loser Society', in K. Stenson

and R. Sullivan (eds), Crime, Risk and Justice,

175-93, Cullompton, Devon: Willan.

--, --, and -- (2003), 'From Law and Order to

Lynch Mobs: Crime News Since the Second World

War', in P. Mason (ed.), Criminal Visions, 13-32,

Cullompton: Willan.

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more

susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures-

both political and religious. They may accept and even welcome repression if it

promises to relieve their insecurities and other anxieties (Signorielli 1990: 102).