Studies link fear, cynicism to crime coverage in TV news

NEW YORK (AP) — Lock the door, hide your valuables. The local television news is on.
Two new studies have measured local TV news shows’ preoccupation with crime stories, and suggest it may help create a public attitude of cynicism and fear.
Crime stories took up twice as much time on local news as reports on politics, health, education or any other topic, according to one study coordinated by the University of Miami’s communications school.
And the organization Rocky Mountain Media Watch said the local news shows it studied averaged 43 percent on its “mayhem index” — meaning nearly half of the news reported was violent fare like crime or disasters.
“This kind of tabloid journalism is empty calories for the mind,” said Paul Klite, head of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Media Watch. “It doesn’t empower you to get involved in events within your community.”
His group studied the content of 100 local broadcasts on a single night, Feb. 26, when the biggest national news story was about the Clinton fund-raising scandal.
One station high on its mayhem index, WSOC in Charlotte, N.C., reported on two ambulance accidents, a robbery at an ATM machine, two sex offenders, a shooting, a truck being hit by a bullet, the trial of a negligent mother, and a father holding his daughter at knife-point.
Crime coverage has remained steady over the past few years even though the crime rate has dropped, Klite said.
“You get this body-bag journalism over and over again,” said Joseph Angotti, who directed the Miami study. “I think it has a numbing effect on the public. People withdraw from activities because of fear.”
Angotti’s study looked at local broadcasts in eight cities during four months late last year and this year.