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“IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU”

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This article examines broadsheet and tabloid newspaper coverage of 12 similar murder cases from the United States and UK over three decades: the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s. Combining quantitative and qualitative analyses, this research studies the types of narratives used to tell this story. While the coverage from both countries in both types of newspapers during the 1930s and 1960s was strikingly similar, the coverage from the 1990s was significantly different to the previous two periods, on three levels. First, the coverage was less focused on “institutional” narratives and more on the “personal” and “societal” elements of the story, with new emphases on the surviving victims' families and how these crimes impacted on the wider community. Second, the prominence given to the story of the victims' families inevitably produced very raw, emotional coverage. Third, the sexual elements and motivations for the cases were highlighted. In the earlier periods the crimes were defined as isolated murders committed by “evil” individuals, whereas by the 1990s these crimes were considered a result of society in decline, with the offenders defined as serial predatory “paedophiles”.
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Keywords: children; crime; fear; narrative; newspapers; risk

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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