By: Mark Fitzgerald
Chicago market study shows newspapers cover violence
more responsibly than does local television sp.
CHICAGO’S TWO BIGGEST daily newspapers cover violence and tragedy far more responsibly than local television news, an independent study concludes.
Indeed, the report suggests that Chicago television news programs would do well to emulate their print counterparts.
“The findings on the [Chicago] Tribune suggest that profit-oriented media can cover violence without arousing audiences’ fears to the same extent TV apparently does,” said the report by Robert Entman, associate professor of journalism and political science at Northwestern University.
The study, “Violence on Television: News and Reality Programming in Chicago,” was commissioned by the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs as part of the nonprofit group’s ongoing study of violence prevention.
In general, the study found that local TV news portrays “an urban America seemingly out of control: night after night the news overflows with victims and perpetrators of violence.”
The study of 10 weeks of news programming on the five major local TV channels showed that when weather, sports and commercials are excluded, more than 50% of the news is devoted to violence.
And only 6% of local news coverage was devoted to reporting community efforts to reduce crime.
In fact, Chicago TV news on average tended to be more violent than the syndicated, so-called “reality” shows, such as Cops or Hard Copy, that were also studied by Entman.
Local TV, the study found, made virtually no distinction between serious and less serious violent crime ? each was given, in effect, page one display.
Further, Chicago TV portrayed whites and minorities differently in crime stories.
“In violent segments, a high percentage [of] African Americans and Latinos are shown as victimizers of society, and few as social helpers,” the report said.
“Images of African Americans and Latinos are systematically more negative than images of whites,” it said.
Entman’s content study was based on 10 weeks of early-evening and late-evening news shows broadcast by the five highest-rated Chicago TV stations: WBBM, a CBS owned-and-operated affiliate; WLS, an ABC O&O; WMAQ, a NBC O&O; WGN, a Tribune Co. O&O, and WFLD, a Fox network affiliate.
(Interestingly, the report said Tribune-owned WGN had the fewest number of violent stories.)
By contrast to TV, a similar content study of the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times over a shorter, 10-day period showed the newspapers covered violence with what the report concluded was more responsibility.
“Newspapers reported less violence than [TV] and newspapers did tend to have more about violence prevention,” said Rachel Williams, program director of the Chicago Council on Urban Affairs.
“There was more context in the newspaper [reporting], so [a reader] doesn’t think it was just, like, anarchy out there,” Williams added.
During the 10-day period studied, the Tribune reported 34 “violent” stories, the Sun-Times 40 ? and TV news averaged 69. The major difference, Entman found, was that the newspapers disregarded some of the fires and minor crimes reported by television.
Entman did a detailed content analysis only of the Tribune, which, he said, “reports a lot of violence.”
“The average number of words appearing in [a day’s worth of] stories about violence was 7,767 ? far exceeding the total words uttered in a half-hour news program,” the report says.
“If correspondents speak at about 130 words per minute in a typical newscast, the Tribune figure would equate to about 60 minutes of TV news narration: a solid hour of violence,” it adds.
But the Tribune’s presentation was far more low-key than television’s, the report noted.
For instance, 78% of violent stories were not illustrated at all.
And the report notes that the newspaper did not normally identify the race of perpetrators or victims.
“Racial animosities are thus less likely to be inflamed by the newspaper’s reporting,” Entman wrote.
“Another significant difference,” he wrote, “is that 14% of the Tribune stories mentioned a systematic government or private effort to control the causes of violence, more than twice the proportion of TV stories (6%).”
“Compared to television,” the report says, “the Tribune appears to portray a somewhat less threatening, out-of-control world, and to do it in a way that is less emotionally vivid.”