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Mass Media and Crime - Journalism, Entertainment, Conclusion, Bibliography

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The relationship between the criminal justice system and the media system has been the subject of research, speculation, and commentary throughout the twentieth century. This relationship may be understood in terms of dependency relations operative between these massive systems (Ball-Rokeach and De Fleur). Put most simply, neither the media nor the criminal justice system could operate effectively without the other. The criminal justice system is a resource for the media system in that it affords one of the common sources of news and entertainment stories. The classical surrogate scout role of the media, whereby they monitor the environment for actual and potential threats to individual and collective welfare, affords a powerful way for the media to attract their audiences. People must constantly update their understanding and ability to orient themselves to the environments in which they act. Media crime stories, whether the news or entertainment genre, instruct and update these understandings. Commercial media organizations translate this relationship with their audience into the profit that flows from advertisers. The media system's capacities to reach vast audiences of citizens and policymakers also positions it as an essential resource for the criminal justice system and all of its attendant judicial and law enforcement organizations. For the criminal justice system to operate effectively, it must have the authority that derives from people's willingness to grant it legitimacy, and media storytelling can profoundly affect this process. Allocation of scarce resources to the criminal justice system also depends upon success in the struggle to get "its" story positively framed and widely disseminated to media audiences. These macro dependency relations serve as context for examinations of specific aspects of media, criminal justice, public, and decision-maker relations.

Research attention has been given to the dependency relations between journalists and the police, courts, and jails. The impact of journalism on public perceptions of the criminal justice system, and on public attitudes toward specific cases—including the attitudes of potential and actual jurors—has been another frequent focus. The right of journalists to protect sources by not disclosing their names has also come under scrutiny from time to time.

While journalism may be the media profession with the most legitimate claim to exercise influence over the criminal justice system, it is by no means the only way the media exercise such influence. Entertainment media have also been studied and criticized for their influence over public perceptions of the people and institutions that comprise the criminal justice system. A striking amount of television programming has in one way or another (e.g., through comedy, mystery, drama, biography, docudrama, and soap opera) been centered on police, lawyers, judges, criminals, and victims of crime. The effects on public attitudes and behavior that these portrayals may have brought about have received considerable research attention. Media portrayals of violence, largely in television but also in movies and—increasingly in the 1990s—recorded music, have been studied in part for their potential to inspire real-life criminal behavior. Exposure to violent media content has been argued in criminal defenses as a mitigating factor in the guilt of defendants.

Since the early 1980s a television genre has emerged that is part journalism (in that it purports to deal with reality and with important subjects) and in no small part entertainment (in that it is dramatic, enhanced with music and special effects, and often includes actors playing various roles). Shows such as Cops, America's Most Wanted, and Unsolved Mysteries combine footage of actual arrests, interviews with people involved in crimes, and other documentary information with an assortment of dramatic elements to create a new sort of quasi-journalism scorned by professional journalists but very popular. While not yet the focus of much research attention, the emergence of such shows is occasionally credited for a perceived decline in the quality of broadcast journalism, which may have an indirect effect on the justice system.

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almost 3 years ago

Great post! There are some interesting points in this blog. I completely agree that media would not be able to sustain itself without the criminal justice system. We live in a day where we actually have a channel completely dedicated to the criminal justice system (Court TV)

I came across a great article that relates to this post. Check it out:

Crime vs Media: How Headlines Compare to What Police are Actually Reporting