How Newspapers Influence Fear Around Young People

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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, with its often 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 reports relating to crime and young people upon the fear people feel around young people. Numerous interesting findings emerged from this research...

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).

While 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 such as cortisol and adrenaline, which enable the brain and body to react more quickly to form a defence or escape (Citation). 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 heart problems, changes in blood pressure, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and paranoia.

heart attack, thickening of the heart muscle, asthma attacks, high blood pressure, increased heart rate... Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Anxiety Disorders, increased paranoia.

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 (citation) 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 could have a detrimental effect on young people and create alarm (citation.)

This study examines the influence of the UK national newspapers upon people's perceptions of violent youth crime levels as well as the 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.

While 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. ???)

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, a form of Framing Analysis which examines the 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.

Entman (1991, 1993), used a variety of quantitative and qualitative techniques to show how the US media framed two ostensibly similar plane crashes in the 1980s as either a deliberate act of aggression or a tragic accident, depending on who was doing the shooting, and who was flying the plane.

Entman specified four stages to his analysis: agency (who is doing what to whom), identification (with people in the stories), categorization (for example, the use of adjectives), and generalization (to other news stories, long-standing debates and so on)

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

Methods of data collection and analysis

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, the quantity and types of violent youth crime written about in the national news media were compared to official statistics of such crimes. This was done 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.

Random samples of national newspaper stories from a six month period in 2009 were taken from the Nexis® UK database using search terms relating to violent youth crime (e.g. "youth, young people" and "crime"). These were then analysed using media framing analysis to discover how the stories portrayed young people in relation to such crime and whether such portrayals were misleading. 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.

Picked 40 articles from each month for January - June 2009 (240 articles in total)

From Nexis UK using search terms: youth or youths or young people or teenager or teenagers or adolescent or boy or girl

Results and Discussion

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, it's 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.