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Media Construction of Carjacking: A Content Analysis of Newspaper Articles From 1993-2002

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 26 Issue: 2 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1-21
Michael G. Cherbonneau; Heith Copes
Date Published
21 pages
This study offers a content analysis of Louisiana newspaper accounts of carjackings from a social constructionist perspective.
Previous studies on how the media report on crime stories have concluded that the media devote inordinate attention to sensational or rare crimes. This attention to dramatic crime stories has led to the creation of moral panics, described as time periods in which previously peripheral issues are perceived as major social problems. In order to further probe the issue of media coverage of crime stories, the authors engaged in a content analysis of newspaper articles on carjackings published in Louisiana from January 1993 through the end of June 2002. During this period there were 682 articles describing 339 carjackings in Louisiana; data were collected on 490 carjacking offenders and 378 victims. The findings suggest that although Louisiana newspapers report on typical carjackings, they devote significantly more coverage to sensationalistic carjackings, such as those involving death or injury to the victim or perpetrator. Previous research has estimated the range of victim injuries from carjackings to be approximately 16 percent to 31 percent; however, Louisiana newspapers reported victim injuries in over 40 percent of carjacking stories. Moreover, carjacking stories that reported on the murder or attempted murder of the victim were present in approximately 16 percent of the Louisiana accounts, while national statistics from the Uniform Crime Reports suggest that there are only 27 annual car thefts that result in murder each year. As such, the authors conclude that newspaper accounts of carjackings in Louisiana sensationalize the frequency of injuries and deaths of victims, and therefore, contribute to a moral panic regarding violent crime in our Nation. It is suggested, then, that policy makers thoroughly investigate empirical evidence regarding crime rather than relying on sensational accounts of crime in the media. Tables, references


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