Master of Arts (MA)
Faculty of Arts
The news media play a significant role in shaping public narratives about homicide by the particular incidents that journalists choose to report – or not report – on. Newspapers, in particular, lack the benefit of constant imagery, special effects, and live-action reporting that T.V. news reports have, and, as a result, forces newspapers to construct sensational and newsworthy homicide stories in order to be competitive and gain readership. To achieve this, newspapers often disproportionately report on bizarre and atypical homicide incidents, which most frequently involve a stranger or unknown assailant. While there is substantive literature surrounding the newsworthiness of homicide incidents in the United States and elsewhere, an accurate and comprehensive understanding of how the news media portray incidents of stranger homicide compared to non-stranger homicide in Canadian newspapers is lacking. In this research project, I address this gap by coding 359 Canadian newspaper articles on reported homicide incidents and analyzing this data to identify key themes, which will be used to contextualize larger systemic issues in society, and provide suggestions for future research.
This research project used media constructions of crime to inform its analysis of the three major themes: the demonization of offenders, gendered blame of female victims and offenders, and the intersection between culture, class, and crime. The results of this data collection and my subsequent analysis of the themes revealed three unique findings which contribute to the literature.
First, an analysis of the demonization of offenders revealed the ‘devaluing of rehabilitation’ as a prominent theme surrounding the construction of stranger offenders. This was an interesting and unique finding that was not previously found in the literature. This suggests that additional research needs to be conducted to reveal the implications of news media’s framing of violent crime and the ensuing punishment and punitive attitudes towards crime from the public.
In addition, many of the articles analyzed in this study used gendered discourse to construct the female victims and offenders in homicide cases. Most research on media constructions of female victims and offenders discuss the imbalance between portrayals of women and men in news media discourse and highlight the obscuring of men’s violence towards women while simultaneously blaming females for their own victimization. This research confirms this notion and also introduces the responsibilization of women other than the primary victim or offender as a distinct finding.
Lastly, I present and discuss the intersection between social class and crime in the news media. Analysis of the data collected in this study illustrated that the news media construct crime as emerging from ‘deviant’ cultures as opposed to rooting crime in the social conditions from which they manifest. This results in further marginalization of particular individuals and groups in society who are already discriminated against (e.g., racial minorities, the lower-class, etc.).
Overall, the present study attempts to expand general knowledge and understanding of news media constructions of stranger homicide compared to non-stranger homicide, and the impact such framing could potentially have on public discourse surrounding certain marginalized individuals and groups in society, particularly visible minorities and victims of domestic violence.
Leone, Gabriella L., "REPRESENTATIONS OF STRANGER AND NON-STRANGER HOMICIDE: A QUALITATIVE CONTENT ANALYSIS OF CANADIAN NEWS MEDIA" (2016). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1888.