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Subject: AEJ 03 KratzerR NWS Examining Newspaper Coverage of Child Abductions from a Public Health Perspective
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 1 Oct 2003 06:25:42 -0400

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The Summer of Fear
Examining Newspaper Coverage of Child Abductions from a Public Health

Renee Martin Kratzer
Doctoral Student
School of Journalism
University of Missouri-Columbia

Contact information:
1614 Secretariat Drive
Columbia, MO 65202
Home Phone: 573.256.5400
[log in to unmask]

** Manuscript submitted to the Newspaper Division for consideration of
presentation at the annual convention of the Association for Education in
Journalism and Mass Communication, Kansas City, August 2003.

** Manuscript submitted for consideration for the MacDougall Student Paper


        Child abductions across the nation captured the media's attention in 2002.
This study examines major newspapers' coverage of these abductions to
discover if the reporting placed the incidents into proper context or used
a public health perspective. A content analysis of 196 newspaper stories
reveals that less than a third cited statistics showing that the actual
rate of child abductions by strangers is on the decline. The reporting of
public health facts, such as solutions, psychological impact, economic
impact, consequences and causes/risk factors, can help readers better
understand this type of crime, but with the exception of solutions, these
facts were rarely mentioned. Also, these child abduction stories most often
used the frames of sensationalism and solutions, followed by a blame frame.

The Summer of Fear
Examining Newspaper Coverage of Child Abductions from a Public Health

Reports of child abductions made national headlines in winter 2002, and
intense media coverage continued throughout the summer. Frightening stories
of a stranger snatching a girl from her bed in the middle of the night or
two friends mysteriously disappearing from the same neighborhood became
front page news and aired on national television news shows.
The media attention devoted to this issue led to an increased awareness
among the public. News stories quoted parents expressing fear for their own
children's safety. State government officials became concerned and proposed
legislation to enact AMBER alert systems that notify the media and the
public immediately following a child's abduction. Even the White House
heeded these alarming stories, with President Bush holding a White House
Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children that brought leaders
together to examine the problem. Bush proposed increasing funding for the
Missing and Exploited Children's Program, which offers training to law
enforcement officers who handle missing children cases, by 26 percent in 2003.
The issue of child abductions clearly captured the public's attention, but
did the increase in media coverage reflect an actual increase in this type
of crime? Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics on child abductions
actually show that these cases have declined. The FBI investigated 263
abduction cases in 2001 and only 201 cases in 2002. These abductions
include children as well as adults. (A. Bell, personal communication, March
27, 2003).

This study uses a public health perspective to examine the coverage of
child abductions by strangers. Public health reporting focuses on
disseminating accurate information to the public so readers can distinguish
between incidents that are preventable and those that aren't (Stevens,
1998). This study relies upon a content analysis of child abduction stories
published in major U.S. newspapers to determine whether the stories
included public health facts that could help readers place these alarming
events in proper context.

Child Abductions
Danielle van Dam's abduction from her San Diego bedroom in February 2002
resulted in national coverage of the missing 7-year-old girl. Three weeks
later, her body was discovered in the desert. A 50-year-old neighbor, David
Westerfield, was accused of murder, and his trial aired live on California
television stations (Branscomb, 2002). A jury sentenced Westerfield to death.
Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom
in the middle of the night June 5. Her younger sister, who was sleeping in
the same bed with Elizabeth, was the only witness to the crime. Her
description of the abductor prompted authorities to interview a former
handyman for the family, but he died from natural causes while in police
custody. In March 2003, Elizabeth was found alive in the company of her
alleged abductors, both of whom are under arrest. Her return home after
eight months sparked another round of intense media coverage.
Samantha Runnion, 5, screamed as a stranger snatched her from her Stanton,
Calif., neighborhood in July 2002. Her body was recovered the following
day, and a 27-year-old suspect who has previously been accused of molesting
children awaits trial in the case.
These three girls are among the children who went missing during a time
period of intense media focus on child abductions. The media fixation on
this issue is not new; in fact, the early 1980s were marked with intense
coverage of other highly publicized cases, some which remain unsolved. This
wave of abduction coverage 20 years ago resulted in the creation of the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as the printing
of children's photographs on milk cartons and billboards. Congress also
passed the Missing Children's Act of 1982. Various news reports at the time
put the number of missing cases anywhere from a few hundred to tens of
thousands. This uncertainty about the actual number of abduction cases
prompted the Denver Post to conduct a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation.
The newspaper reporters discovered that in most of the cases of missing
children, the children had either returned home or were runaways, and that
only a few hundred had actually been abducted by strangers.
To end this confusion over the numbers, the U.S. Department of Justice
commissioned a National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and
Thrownaway Children (NISMART). This 1988 study found that much of the
discrepancy over the numbers was the result of differing definitions of
abduction. The legal definition of abduction "could include the coercive
movement of a person even a small distance or the unlawful confinement of a
person for a short period of time" (Asdigian, Finkelhor & Hotaling, 1995).
The study recommended that data should be collected for legal-definition
abductions as well as stereotypical abductions, in which a child is taken
from his/her home and parents by a stranger "for purposes such as ransom,
sadistic and sexual assault, or murder" (Asdigian et al., 1995). The study
estimated only 200 to 300 children each year were victims of the
stereotypical abductions.
During the recent coverage of stranger abductions, the number of yearly
child abductions reported in news stories vary from less than 100 to
55,000. One story in USA Today said: "The math on child abductions is
fuzzy. No one knows exactly how many children are stolen by strangers each
year. Experts cannot say for certain whether this summer's spate of
kidnappings reflects a real increase in abductions" (Leinwand, 2002).
However, data are available and point to a decrease in cases. Failure to
report these simple facts leave readers unable to place the problem into
proper perspective.
For fiscal year 2002, there were 201 cases of kidnapping that the FBI was
involved with. The FBI tracks cases that are reported from any of the 56
FBI field offices across the nation. These are stranger abduction cases in
which a ransom is involved or the victims are transported across state
lines. These numbers were down from 2001, in which there were 263 cases.
Thus far in fiscal year 2003, there are 56 cases of abductions. The FBI's
fiscal year is from October 1 to September 30 (A. Bell, personal
communication, March 27, 2003).
A new National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway
Children study (NISMART-2) was released in fall 2002. This study looked at
children who were missing in 1999 because of runaway/thrownaway episodes,
family abductions and nonfamily abductions. The latter category included
stereotypical abductions, which are defined as "when a stranger or slight
acquaintance perpetrates a nonfamily abduction in which the child is
detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom,
abducted with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed" (Sedlak,
Finkelhor, Hammer, & Schultz, 2002). Of the 797,500 children who were
estimated to be reported missing, only 2 percent were because of nonfamily
abductions. In this group, there were only 115 stereotypical abductions by

Because kidnapping prevention focuses on the danger of strangers, it may be
surprising that the majority of nonfamily abduction victims (53 percent)
are abducted by persons known to the child: 38 percent of the nonfamily
abducted children were abducted by a friend or long-term acquaintance, 5
percent by a neighbor, 6 percent by persons of authority, and 4 percent by
a caretaker or babysitter. (Finkelhor, Hammer, Sedlack, 2002)

Despite the low number of stranger abductions, the dangers facing the
children who are taken are real. The study found that 32 percent of
children in stereotypical kidnappings were injured, 49 percent were
sexually assaulted, 40 percent were killed, and 4 percent were not located
or returned. In 57 percent of the cases, the child was returned alive
(Finkelhor et al., 2002).
This study also provides a profile for abductors in stereotypical
kidnappings. These abductors are most often males younger than 40. The
children they abducted tended to be white, non-Hispanic females age 12 and
older (Finkelhor et al., 2002).
        Glassner (1999) discusses numerous cases in which the media focus a large
amount of coverage on events that occur infrequently, such as road rage and
airplane crashes. He also mentions child abductions, which he calls "one of
America's most enduring but fallacious panics." Glassner continues:

In national surveys conducted in recent years three out of four parents say
they fear that their child will be kidnapped by a stranger. They harbor
this anxiety, no doubt, because they keep hearing frightening statistics
and stories about perverts snatching children off the street. What the
public doesn't hear often or clearly enough is that the majority of missing
children are runaways fleeing from physically or emotionally abusive
parents. Most of the remaining number of missing children are "throw aways"
rejected by their parents, or kids abducted by estranged parents.
(Glassner, 2002)

According to Glassner, many parents are fearful of their children being
kidnapped despite the actual low numbers of children who become victims of
such crimes. Research has shown that crime stories receiving a lot of
coverage can increase readers' fear of becoming a victim (Gordon & Heath,
1981). This inaccurate view of crime can frighten people and make them
"feel helpless about reducing violence in their communities" (Stevens,
2001). This potential media effect means journalists have a responsibility
to provide accurate crime reports.

Crime Coverage
Criticism of the media for focusing on crimes that have low incident rates
is not new. Davis' study 50 years ago discovered that there is no
relationship to crime coverage and official crime rates. He also found that
the public's perception of crime was closer to the false reality presented
in newspapers (Davis, 1952).
Other researchers have found similar findings pointing to the media's
disproportionate reports on crime (Payne & Payne, 1970; Jones, 1976;
Antunes & Hurley, 1977; Sheley, 1981; Fedler, 1982; and Winhause,
1990).  Graber (1979) analyzed crime coverage in the Chicago Tribune and
national and local television stations and found that "crime news does not
present crimes in the proportions in which they are committed. There is a
disproportionate emphasis on street crime, as compared to white collar
crime." For example, murders made up only .2 percent of the crimes in the
Chicago police record, but stories of murders made up 26.2 percent of the
crime coverage. Garofalo's (1981) review of crime literature showed that
the media's coverage of crime fails to reflect actual crime statistics, and
that "violent crimes are highly overrepresented."
Exposure to crime news can prompt the public to have a greater concern for
crime and crime victimization, even when controlling for individuals'
personal experience with crime (Einsiedel, 1984). Thus, examining crime
coverage, such as child abduction stories, is important because it can have
an effect on the public's perception and fear of crime. The distorted
public perception of child abductions shows up in a survey sponsored by the
Polly Klaas Foundation. In August 2002, 1,000 participants were asked how
big the problem of missing and abducted children is in the United States.
The results were that 74 percent perceive it to be a big problem, 21
percent to be somewhat of a problem, 4 percent to be not that big of a
problem, and 1 percent to be no problem at all. This shows that the
public's perception of the danger of kidnapping doesn't match the actual
crime rate.

Adopting a Public Health Perspective
Misleading representations of crime issues "not only distort reality, they
give readers a false impression upon which to base their own decisions and
behaviors" (Rodgers & Thorson, 2001). The media hype surrounding the child
abduction stories creates a false sense of an epidemic when the numbers
clearly show otherwise.
Reporting about violent crimes from a public health perspective can provide
more meaning for the audience. Stevens (1998) explains that since 1977, the
medical community has considered violence in America to be an epidemic. "In
1984, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared that violence was as
much a public health issue for today's physicians as smallpox was for the
medical community in previous generations" (Stevens, 1998). Stevens argues
that most media coverage of violence is isolated, which results in readers
believing the problems are random instead of "predictable and preventable."
She proposes that reporters begin covering violence the same as they report
on diseases, which means including the risk factors, the economic costs and
prevention efforts in stories (Stevens, 2001).
The researcher argues that this shift in coverage is not a new concept by
citing an example of the changing nature of reporting on traffic
fatalities. Before the 1960s, traffic fatalities were blamed on drivers.
Once public health experts became involved, attention focused on
environmental conditions and the vehicles, which resulted in safer vehicles
and roads, plus legislation for wearing seat belts and against drinking and
driving (Stevens, 2001).
Reporting on crime from a public health perspective can provide more
context to the crimes as well as explain the causes and consequences.
Graber's (1980) research on crime coverage shows that many crime stories
lack information about causes and solutions. Less than 5 percent of the
stories she examined included a cause for the crime, and only 3 percent
included solutions.
According to Stevens (1998), reports on violence should include information
that places the incident into local context and lists the risk factors
involved. Follow-up stories should include the consequences to the families
affected as well as the community. Using a public health perspective in
crime reports lets "readers and viewers obtain knowledge of the ongoing
status of violence in their communities, the toll taken on families and the
community, and the success or failure of measures taken to prevent it"
(Stevens, 1998).
Rodgers and Thorson argue that in order to solve public health problems
relating to violence, the public needs to understand "the causes and
consequences of violence. A first step, then, must be a close examination
of just what is being said about crime and violence in the news" (Rodgers &
Thorson, 2001). This study will take this recommended approach and examine
newspaper coverage of child abductions. The following research questions
are adapted from Rodgers and Thorson's (2001) study on public health reporting.

RQ1: How often are public health facts present in the child abduction
stories, including facts about solutions, economic and psychological crime
factors, and consequences and causes of crime?

RQ2: How many of the child abduction news stories are initial reports
versus follow-up stories? Do these two types of stories include different
public health facts?

RQ3: How many of the child abduction stories are feature stories? Do these
types of stories include different public health facts than the news stories?

RQ4: Does the newspaper coverage place the problem of child abductions by
strangers into proper perspective by providing a context for the frequency
of these abductions?

The framing of the content is also important because frames can help the
public make sense of the news. This study uses Entman's (1993) definition
of framing. He says framing is " to select some aspects of a perceived
reality and make them more salient in a communicating text in such a way as
to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral
evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation." The crime frames of
sensationalism, blame, and solution will be used in this study, and the
following research question will be examined:

RQ5: Which crime frame (sensationalism, blame or solution) is the most
prevalent among the child abduction stories? Do these frames differ between
the news and feature stories?

To examine the media coverage of child abductions, a content analysis was
conducted. The sample of stories was from LexisNexis' database of major
U.S. newspapers. These newspapers were chosen because major newspapers
represent the media's agenda and have been shown to set the agenda for
smaller newspapers. The 26 major newspapers studied include the Atlanta
Journal & Constitution, Boston Globe, New York Times, Omaha World Herald,
San Diego Union-Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Washington Post. The
time frame began February 1, 2002, and ended November 1, 2002. These months
were chosen because the first widely reported kidnapping case occurred in
February, and the White House conference on children took place in October,
so this time frame allowed for analysis of coverage after these two main
events. The search term used was "child abductions." Stories that were
briefs, police blotter reports, letters to the editor or editorials were
not included. A total of 196 stories were analyzed. The unit of analysis
was each story.
The stories were coded using the variables of story type, story frequency,
public health facts, and crime frames. Story type was defined as a news
story or feature story. Story frequency referred to whether the story was a
first-time or follow-up story. First-time stories related to news stories
that were triggered by an event, and the date of the story and the date of
the event determined if a story fit into this category. Follow-up stories
referred to those that updated previously reported stories or information.
The variable of public health facts had five categories that were defined
by Stevens (2001): solutions, economic impact, psychological impact,
causes/risk factors and consequences. The following definitions were used:
Solutions: stories that provide remedies for preventing future abductions.
These include prevention programs or safety devices.
Economic impact: stories that have information about the financial aspect
of solving or preventing abductions, such as the cost to the government.
Psychological impact: stories that include the emotional response of the
victim's family members and other community members.
Causes/risk factors: stories that explain circumstances that contributed to
the crime.
Consequences: stories highlighting factors that are a result of the crime,
such as physical or emotional trauma to the victim or what happened to the

This study also looked at whether the newspaper coverage of these
abductions provided any context for the readers. Stories that included
abduction statistics, whether local or national, were coded as providing
context for readers.
Crime frames were also examined. Some stories contained more than one
frame, so they were coded multiple times. The definitions for these frames
were adopted from Rodgers and Thorson's study (2001). They are as follows:
Sensationalism: "vivid descriptions or gruesome details, descriptors of
strongly emotional subject matter that was meant to arouse or get a
reaction, and/or any dramatic style of writing used to shock, thrill, or
Blame: "accusing or assigning responsibility for the crime or act of
violence to an individual or group of individuals, organization or
business, or society at large."
Solutions: "facts about an individual, community, organization, group of
people, or city attempting to solve or prevent crime or violence." Stories
that were coded as a solutions frame were also coded as a public health fact.

One researcher coded all the stories, with a second researcher coding 10
percent of the stories to check the intercoder reliability using Scott's pi
index, which was .89. The data analysis includes Chi squares and frequency

The first research question examines the public health facts that are
included in the stories. Table 1 shows that 49 percent of the total stories
included solutions, 29.1 percent included consequences, 24.5 percent
included the psychological impact, 24.5 percent included causes/risk
factors, and 4.6 percent discussed the economic impact.
There were 14 different solutions for child abductions that were mentioned
in the coverage (see Table 2). The most common solution included in stories
was an alert system, such as the AMBER alert system in use by some states
and proposed by others. These systems, which broadcast information about
the abductor and victims, are credited with saving the lives of 32 children
since 1996. The alert systems were discussed in 17.9 percent of the
stories. The next solution mentioned most often was child safety programs,
including both those sponsored by schools as well as organizations. These
programs were featured in 4.6 percent of the stories. Other solutions
included raising public awareness of the issue (3.6 percent), using
electronic devices to monitor children (3.1 percent), having a current
child identification kit (3.1 percent), holding a White House conference
about child abductions (3.1 percent), and having a list of safety tips from
experts (3.1 percent). Less cited solutions included neighborhood block
parties, stricter laws, increased police patrols and home security systems.
The analysis shows that a discussion of the economic impact of the
abductions was almost non-existent in the coverage. Only nine of the 196
stories mentioned the costs related to child abductions. Most discussed the
cost of implementing AMBER alert systems, and one cited the cost to the
police for offering safety programs. None mentioned the costs related to
search and recovery efforts. The psychological impact of these crimes on
the victim's family members and other community members was a public health
fact that was more likely to be included. This information was most often
communicated through direct quotations from community members who expressed
fear of the crime happening again or a sense of helplessness that no child
is safe in any neighborhood. This fear among parents was present in 18.9
percent of the stories. Only one story (.5 percent) focused on an increase
in children's fear, but 4.1 percent of the stories discussed an increase of
fear among both parents and children (See Table 3).
There were three main consequences of the crimes that emerged from the
stories. The consequences included the emotional trauma to the victim, the
emotional trauma to the victim's family, and what happened to the abductor.
Only two stories (1 percent) focused on the emotional trauma to the victim,
and two other stories (1 percent) followed up on the emotional trauma to
the victims' families. The newspaper coverage was more likely to be
punitive and included the consequences to the abductor in 27 percent of the
stories (See Table 4). The consequences to the abductor involved arrests,
ongoing trial coverage and convictions.
There were six causes/risk factors that were identified in the stories.
These included a profile of typical kidnapping victims as well as a profile
of typical child abductors. The four remaining causes/risk factors focus
only on the abductor and include whether the abductor was a sex offender,
had a previous conviction, was a parent involved in a custody dispute or
was an acquaintance of the child. These four factors contribute to an
increased risk of abductions; however, they were not widely mentioned in
the stories. Only 9.2 of the stories mentioned that parental abductions are
more common than stranger abductions, and only 5.1 percent said that
acquaintances also pose a greater threat. The previous convictions of
abductors were mentioned in 6.1 percent of the stories, and the fact that
some of these abductors were sex offenders was cited in 1 percent of the
stories. (See Table 5.)
Research question two focuses on the type of public health facts included
in first-time news reports versus follow-up reports. A frequency count
reveals that of the 134 news stories (68.4 percent), there were an equal
number of first-time stories (34.2 percent) and follow-up stories (34.2
percent). The remaining 31.6 percent of stories were feature stories.
A Chi-square analysis of first-time news stories and follow-up news stories
shows that there is a significant difference between three types of public
health facts that were included in these stories (See Table 6). The
first-time news stories were more likely to include solutions, which at
first glance might appear as a surprising finding. However, these
first-time stories weren't limited to stories of the abductions, but also
first-time stories about the alert systems that many state legislatures
were proposing. Follow-up stories were more likely to include the
causes/risk factors and the consequences.
The third research question also looks at feature stories, which made up
31.6 percent of the overall stories on child abductions. Do these feature
stories have different public health facts than the news stories? A
Chi-square analysis shows that there is a significant difference between
the two types of stories for reporting solutions, psychological impact and
consequences (See Table 7). Solutions were included in 69.4 percent of the
feature stories compared to only 38.8 percent of the news stories. Feature
stories were also more likely to include the psychological impact, with
46.8 percent of these stories mentioning the increased fear of parents or
children, and only 14.2 percent of the news stories doing so. However, the
news stories focused more on the consequences of the crime, with 38.1
percent of the news stories citing these facts compared to 9.7 percent of
the feature stories. There was no significant difference between the two
types of stories for the public health facts of economic impact and
causes/risk factors.
To address research question four about whether the newspaper coverage
provided a proper perspective for the readers, the stories were coded to
look at whether they placed the issue of child abductions into a broader
context. Less than a third of the stories (28.6 percent) cited child
abduction statistics, and not all of the stories that included numbers
pointed out that this is a crime that is on the decline. Some simply
reported that there are more than 700,000 missing children each year, while
others explained that only a few hundred children were involved in stranger
Research question five looks at the type of crime frame used to report the
stories. The three crime frames that were coded were sensationalism, blame
and solution (See Table 8). Some stories used multiple frames, so they were
coded more than once. The sensational frame appeared in 97 stories (49.5
percent), closely followed by the solution frame in 96 stories (49
percent). The blame frame was used in 59 stories (30.1 percent). Looking at
the frames used in news stories versus feature stories shows a significant
difference for the sensational and solution frame but not for the blame
frame (See Table 9). The sensational frame was used in 59.7 percent of the
news stories compared to 27.4 percent of the feature stories; however, the
solution frame was used in 71 percent of the feature stories compared to
only 38.8 percent of the news stories. This shows a difference in the types
of frames that are used for stories written on a tight deadline and those
that are not.

This study on child abductions supports previous research that shows that
media crime coverage does not accurately reflect actual incidents of crime.
The stories of young boys and girls being abducted by strangers captured
the media's attention at a time when the actual number of stranger
abductions was declining. A dismal finding is that only 28.6 percent of the
newspaper stories cited national or local abduction statistics that help
readers put the crime in proper context. Without these numbers, readers
might come to the false conclusion that the increased coverage was the
result of an increase in these crimes.
Newspaper coverage that includes public health facts helps readers better
understand the rate of crime in their communities and the effects of the
crimes. However, this study shows that public health facts were clearly
lacking from the child abduction coverage that was examined. Almost half of
the stories included solutions, but these solutions were more likely to be
in feature stories than stories about specific abduction incidents. The
consequences to these abductions were included in less than a third of the
stories and were more likely to involve what happened to the abductor than
the emotional trauma to the victim or the victim's family. The
psychological impact of these crimes was included in stories by quoting
parents who harbored fears that their own children would be stolen, but
even this public health fact was mentioned in less than 25 percent of the
The causes/risk factors, which could have provided much needed context to
this problem, appeared in only 24.5 percent of the stories. The fact that
children are much more likely to be kidnapped by family members or
acquaintances than by strangers was widely underreported. Parents' fear of
children being randomly snatched from their homes by strangers was not
alleviated by newspaper coverage because the stories didn't help them
understand the true risk factors. This can lead to parents and the public
warning children of "stranger danger" when in fact, children are much more
likely to be kidnapped by someone they know. Also, the typical profile of a
stereotypical kidnapping is a female teenager and not young children, such
as 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. The researchers who compiled the kidnapping
statistics warn that when planning prevention strategies, "it is important
to keep efforts from being misdirected by the stereotype of the preteen
victim. In fact, the vulnerability of teens needs to be a central principle
guiding such planning" (Finkelhor et al., 2002). If the media would cite
public health facts, such as the typical profiles for both abductors and
victims, then the true nature of child abductions would be represented and
parents would be better able to protect their children.
The most underreported public health fact was the economic impact of these
crimes. No stories included the cost of searches for the missing children
or for the trial and prison costs for harboring convicted kidnappers. Most
stories that reported the economic impact discussed the cost of
implementing AMBER alert systems.
Examining the differences between the frequencies of stories point out how
first-time stories often focus on sensational facts, which is perhaps not
surprising since many reporters write these crime stories on deadline.
However, the follow-up stories failed to incorporate public health facts,
too, despite reporters having more time to seek out this information. The
feature stories did a better job exploring solutions to this problem.
This study shows that the newspaper coverage of child abductions focused on
the sensational and failed to put the problem in proper context for
readers. By not doing so, the media missed the opportunity to educate
readers about the true dangers of a type of crime that is actually on the
 Table 1. Percentage of stories that included public health facts.

Public Health Fact              Percentage
Solutions                       48.5
Consequences                    29.1
Causes/risk factors             24.5
Psychological impact            24.5
Economic impact         4.6

Table 2. Types of solutions included in stories.

Solutions                       Percentage
Alert systems                   17.9
Child safety programs           4.6
Public awareness                3.6
Child ID kits                   3.1
Electronic devices              3.1
Safety tips                     3.1
White House conference  3.1
Sex offender lists              2
Police patrols                  1.5
Police software         1.5
Block parties                   1.5
Tougher laws                    1.5
Home security systems   1
Multiple solutions              1

Table 3. Types of psychological impact included in stories.

Psychological impact            Percentage
Parents' fear                   18.9
Children's fear         .5
Parents' & children's fear      4.1

 Table 4. Types of consequences included in stories.

Consequences                                    Percentage
Action taken against abductor                   27
Victim's emotional trauma                       1
Family of victim's emotional trauma             1

Table 5. Types of causes/risk factors included in stories.

Causes/risk factors             Percentage
Parental abductions             9.2
Previous convictions            6.1
Acquaintances                   5.1
Profile of abductors            1
Profile of victims              1
Sex offenders                   1

Table 6. Chi-squares examining differences between first-time news stories
and follow-up news stories and the reporting of public health facts.

Public Health Fact              Chi-Square              Significant
Solutions                       21.244                  .000
Consequences                    26.623                  .000
Causes/risk factors             6.794                   .009
Economic impact         7.386                   .007a
Psychological impact            3.005                   .083

a  2 cells have expected counts less than 5. The minimum expected count is

 Table 7. Chi-squares examining differences between news stories and
feature stories and the reporting of public health facts.

Public Health Fact              Chi-Square              Significant
Psychological impact            24.353                  .000
Solutions                       15.838                  .000
Consequences                    16.556                  .000
Economic impact         .386                    .534
Causes/risk factors             .004                    .948

Table 8. Types of crime frames.

Crime Frame             Percentage
Sensationalism  49.5
Solution                49
Blame                   30.1

Table 9. Chi-squares examining differences between news stories and feature
stories and the use of crime frames.

Crime Frame             Chi-Square              Significant
Sensationalism  17.671                  .000
Solution                17.545                  .000
Blame                   1.505                   .220

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