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Victim and killer contrasted

Apart from being individuals, the victims and killers are often depicted in verdict reports as representing the “good” and “evil”-the “good” and “evil” being a typical example of “binary oppositions” employed in newspaper reporting, and in crime reports in particular (Jewkes 2004). The contrast is especially effective when both the victim and the killer are mentioned in one sentence as in the following examples, which are all headlines from The Sun.

(29) Monster aged 14 lured Joe to death (S7)

  • (30) Thug who murdered Jimmy, 16, given life (S8)
  • (31) Evil mum kicks baby to death (S5)

The examples illustrate a strategy employed in tabloid headlines, although more consistently especially in The Sun than in The Daily Mirror. It consists in personalising the victim by the use of his/her first name, which enhances familiarity, whereas the killer often remains anonymous until later and is characterized by his/her unacceptable behaviour and referred to by negatively evaluating nouns, i.e. thug and monster. As early as possible, i.e. in the headline, the Sun readers are thus presented with a judgment that they do not need to make, and are not expected to make, themselves. The negative status expressed by a negative noun may be further enhanced by evaluative adjectives (Examples 32 and 33), found typically in tabloid papers, but unimaginable and “forbidden” in serious papers.

  • (32) Vile thug Jake Fahri, 19, was found guilty of killing gentle giant Jimmy, 16 (DM8)
  • (33) Scheming loner Michael Hamer lured diminutive Joe ... (S7)

The effect of evaluative adjectives may be further increased if they are used in unexpected collocations, such as an evil mum (Example 31) or a sadistic mum. A mother should principally be “care and love provider”; when she kills her own child, she has failed her principal maternal role, which automatically lowers her status.

Serious papers, mainly for the sake of objectivity, rather resort to factual reference (Examples 34 and 35, both headlines), although the information chosen to be provided about the killer and victim instructs the serious papers readers to come to the same views that are openly imposed on the tabloids readers. It seems sufficient for serious papers to identify the killers via their social roles or age, for example, as a teenager and a mother, neither of whom is normally associated with killing. The mention of the relationship between the victim and the killer, i.e. a father/mother vs. his/her child, a teenager vs. his schoolmate, thus suffices to identify the “good” and “evil”, since categories such as a teenager, mother or dad encompass certain expected behaviour and/or values which the killers obviously lack.

  • (34) Teenager gets life for killing boy, 11 (G 7)
  • (35) Mother kicked toddler to death (DT5)
  • (36) Dad gets life for tot’s murder (S4)

The contrast between the killer and the victim is achieved in the headlines by stating the exact age of the victim (Example 34) or by an implicit reference to age by the noun toddler (Example 35) and the informal noun tot (Example 36). Such headlines are fully informative as they carry the main message. Another purpose of headlines, i.e. to attract the readers to read the article, does not need to be specifically pursued here, as the events are appalling in themselves and as such are expected to draw the readers’ attention.

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