Neighborhood Context and Media Representations of Crime
- Shea CroninShea CroninMetropolitan College - Applied Social Sciences, Boston University
Neighborhoods are central to popular and news media portrayals of crime and theories of social control. By setting agendas and framing crime problems, news media in particular are an important part of the policy process. Media representations influence public perceptions and attitudes about crime as well as public responses to crime, which are known to vary across neighborhoods. Media representations of crime are thus likely to have important implications for the distribution of social control across neighborhoods.
Media and crime literature has focused primarily on the social construction of crime by examining victim, offender, and situational characteristics of crime. Concerns about over- or underrepresentation of racial groups or genders have driven attention to these characteristics. Research finds consistently, for example, that “normal crimes” and “deserving victims” are differentially present in media accounts of crimes. In addition to the normative consequences, there are methodological reasons for taking more seriously the study of neighborhoods for the broader media and crime literature.
Few studies have contributed to the understanding of neighborhood context in the study of media and crime. The findings of the research are mixed and are limited in a variety of ways, although there is evidence that disadvantaged communities and communities of color are underrepresented in news media accounts of crime. These findings confirm expectations from theories typically applied to individual characteristics. Research on the intersection of media, crime, and neighborhoods is of importance to the study of crime and social control, but can be expanded upon in a number of ways. Focusing research on qualitative differences across neighborhoods, expanding the scope of variables connected to common theoretical perspectives used in the literature, accounting for neighborhood dynamics, and drawing upon a wider array of variables connected to concepts of community power, interest group politics, and control of institutions are all recommendations for advancing this line of inquiry.