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Murder in Black and White: The Newspaper Coverage of Homicide in Houston

NCJ Number
Homicide Studies Volume: 7 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 289-317
Derek J. Paulsen
Thomas A. Petee
Date Published
August 2003
27 pages
This research study analyzed the newspaper coverage of homicide in the city of Houston covering the period between 1986 and 1994 and provides a national comparison.
The coverage of crime by the media has a long history in the United States, dating back to the early 1800's. Today, crime is among the most popular of all news topics. There is substantial research indicating how the media disproportionately focus on violent crimes, such as homicide; however, there is little known about how the media covers violent crime. This study explored the difference between the reality of homicide in Houston, TX, between 1986 and 1994 and the socially constructed reality of homicide as portrayed by newspaper coverage of homicide incidents. A database was created containing official homicide data and newspaper articles of homicides. The overall results of the various analyses conducted offer some clear and important findings concerning the newspaper coverage of homicide. The most significant factor in determining if an incident received any type of newspaper coverage was the presence of multiple victims, followed by incidents involving female victims and multiple offenders. African-Americans and Hispanic victims were significantly less likely to receive newspaper coverage than White victims. Articles receiving celebrated coverage were more likely to cover incidents involving statistically rare victims. Crime column articles were more likely to cover incidents involving statistically normal incident characteristics. Homicide presented by the Houston Chronicle is seen as one that vastly differs from the true reality of homicide in Houston, with a potential impact on both public perception and fear of crime. Overall, the coverage of homicide by the Houston Chronicle has been shown to be very similar to the coverage of homicide in other newspapers. Tables, appendix, and references


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