Crime news: Reports on verdicts
Crime reports informing the reader about verdicts in murder cases involving children appear especially suitable for the purpose of determining and outlining the tendencies and means employed by the modern British press to construe and enhance a high or low social status of victims and criminals, and thus identify the “good” and “evil” in the society. Apart from the verdict, the reports usually contain a brief summary of the event itself, but they have a much wider potential-they provide an opportunity for newspapers to make a moral appeal to their readers and refer to the generally acknowledged social norms. As Caviglia points out, discourse about crime is “a space in which community reflects on its problems and reaffirms its values” (Caviglia 2006: 124).
It has been mentioned above that various newspapers are targeted at different readerships, although it should also be noted that the implied reader can be defined in very general terms only, e.g. age, socio-economic background or political preferences (Bell 1991, Jancankova 2009). The concept of the implied reader, however abstract, is an essential aspect which at least to a certain extent determines a newspaper’s success in the market. The differences arising from different readerships are better revealed when several newspapers of different types are compared. The present comparison of four national dailies, two broadsheets (The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian) and two tabloids (The Daily Mirror and The Sun) offers an interesting outline of practices and language use as employed by the contemporary serious and popular British press. The corpus consists of forty reports on ten child murder cases that happened in Britain between 2004 and 2011. Each of the ten events is represented in the corpus by four articles published in the four British newspapers mentioned above. The individual events are numbered 1-10 and the newspapers titles are abbreviated as follows: G for The Guardian, DT for The Daily Telegraph, DM for The Daily Mirror and S for The Sun.
The events included in the corpus comply with a number of news values discussed above. In the first place, as murders they involve a certain amount of “drama”, “unusualness” and “violence”. The victims being children and teenagers are certain to generate sympathy in the readers since such victims can easily be “identified” with the readers’ own children, grandchildren, friends, etc. The murders did not happen in a remote country, but in Britain, so they display the news value of “cultural and social proximity”. The reports of this kind offer the possibility to refer to the efficiency of the police force and criminal justice system and thus help assure law-abiding citizens that at least in these particular cases criminals did not escape justice and were rightly and severely punished (i.e. the news value of “conservative ideology and political diversion”).