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Crime news

Crime news represents a genre which is particularly suitable for realizing the above mentioned social functions. It meets a number of criteria of newsworthiness, whether we turn to the traditional classification of news values formulated by Galtung and Ruge (1965) or later classifications by, for example, Harcup and O’Neill (2001) or Brighton and Foy (2007), which better reflect the situation in the modern media sphere. Jewkes (2004: 40), as an expert in criminology, offers a set of twelve news values designed specifically for crime news: “threshold”, “predictability”, “simplification”, “individualism”, “risk”, “sex”, “celebrity or high-status persons”, “proximity”, “violence”, “spectacle or graphic imagery”, “children”, and “conservative ideology and political diversion”.

Crime, being inherently negative, is certain to attract public attention and as such is part of the agenda of various newspapers, local or national, popular or serious. Katz (1987) proposes the view that although people find crime appalling and often express their displeasure about being provided mainly with negative news by modern media, they still feel tempted to read about crime in order to make sense of their own existence and pitfalls of everyday life. Therefore, crime news is not “newsworthy” in its content; “crime news is about the daily reconstruction of moral sensibilities on a personal and even private plane” (Gripsrud 2008: 43). In Britain, as Hanna aptly remarks, “stories of crime and the subsequent drama of court cases are the lifeblood of British newspapers” (2006: 192). No matter how unusual a particular crime is, newspapers seem to promote the view that we are all “potential victims” (Wardle 2008, Hanna 2006).

Not all types of crime are equally newsworthy; some types of crime have a wider potential to appeal to the public than others. Murders or violent attacks, for example, involve more “drama” and “unusualness” than an ordinary theft (Wardle 2008), i.e. they display a higher degree of the “threshold” and “predictability” news values. And yet they represent a relatively infrequent type of crime in comparison with theft or fraud. Mainly those kinds of crime which can be presented as “human stories” will receive a great deal of media attention since these stories happen to and therefore are expected to interest real people more than other kinds of crime news (Jewkes 2004), which complies with the news values of “simplification” and “proximity” (both cultural and social). Such a human story is naturally built around the individuals involved-the victim and the killer/assaulter, i.e. “real people” who at the same time may be viewed as representing a particular member of the society typically associated with certain qualities, values or type of lifestyle/behaviour. If the victim is, for example, a child, for readers who themselves are parents the event may also be viewed as representing a potential danger to their own children because the event signals something negative or alarming about the society. If the killer is a young violent teenager, current problems like juvenile crime may be addressed in the article, whether explicitly or implicitly, depending on the type of newspaper. Newspapers thus aspire to act as the society’s moral guardians (Wardle 2008)-they attempt to delimit the moral boundaries and communicate to the reader how the society is stratified, how its members and their actions are to be viewed and what attitudes and values should be “cherished” by all of us. As Jewkes emphasizes:

“news discourse is generally not open to interpretation and audiences are invited to come to consensual conclusions about a story. ... As far as crime news is concerned, this usually amounts to moral indignation and censure directed at anyone who transgresses the legal or moral codes of society.” (Jewkes 2004: 44)

The depiction of the individuals thus necessarily encompasses their social status communicated to the reader, positive or negative, depending on whether they personify traditional/desired values and conform to the conventional behaviour, or represent behaviour unacceptable in a civilized society. Such a polarized view of the society helps the reader, i.e. a law- abiding citizen, to identify the “good” and “evil”, and contributes to the reinforcement of the social norms and unwritten rules.

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