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43 How. J. Crim. Just. 1 (2004)

handle is hein.journals/hjcj43 and id is 1 raw text is: 



The Howard Journal Vol 43 No 1. February 2004
ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 1-14




        The Reporting Trajectories of

   Top Homicide Cases in the Media:

           A   Case Study of The Times


 KEITH SOOTHILL, MOIRA PEELO, JAYN PEARSON and
                          BRIAN FRANCIS
 Keith Soothill is Professor of Social Research, Department of Applied Social
   Science, Lancaster University; Moira Peelo is Honorary Senior Research
     Fellow, Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University;
Jayn Pearson is Postgraduate Student, Department of Applied Social Science,
Lancaster  University; Brian Francis is Director Centre for Applied Statistics,
                          Lancaster  University


Abstract: This study describes the reporting trajectories of the 13 cases that received the
most coverage in a leading British newspaper The Times, over a period of 23 years
(1977 to 1999 inclusive). We have classified these as 'mega-cases'. This approach moves
beyond merely measuring the coverage of cases to charting how cases can escalate to
become 'moral panics, move into a shared 'general knowledge' of killing or in some cases,
come to occupy iconic status. Some 'mega' cases fadefrom consciousness when viewed over
a period of time. In 'mega-cases' there is an unexpected 'primary incident' that makes the
case newsworthy in the first instance. Then the formal process' helps to manage a
homicide within accepted and acceptable boundaries. In broad terms, the media
trajectories of these 'mega-cases' following the 'primary incident' are predictable.
However further unexpected 'incidents' unrelated to 'process' - suicides, attacks by other
prisoners, escapes - challenge the predictability of these 'mega-cases'. The trajectories of
homicide cases that begin to link in with wider societal agendas are the most difficult to
predict.


Some   homicides  totally dominate news  coverage,  while others receive
much   less attention, if indeed any at all. Yet, the 'top' homicide cases can
have very different trajectories in their coverage in the media. Some cases
seem  to make a massive impact from the outset, whilst others seem to build
up  a momentum   over time; and some  cases wane. In this article we argue
that, to understand the contribution of 'mega-cases' (Soothill et al. 2002) to
a social, public 'general knowledge' of homicide, researchers must unravel
the structure underpinning   mass coverage  of the case. Rather than just
counting  the quantity of words,  one  must  understand  the  differences
between  cases in what triggers the type of coverage. This has particular
relevance  when  assessing whether  the public outrage usually linked to

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©  Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ UK
and 350 Main Street Malden MA 0214R USA

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