Headlines were coded into one of three themes-shooter, victim s , or event-based on the focus of the headline. Coding of the headlines was discrete, meaning that they only could be categorized into one of these themes. In order to be in the sample, a crime story had to cover mass murders by a lone shooter. Over the study period , we collected and coded crime stories resulting in our sample.
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It is important to note that the unit of analysis for this study is the report of a crime story, not the crime itself. The random nature of indiscriminate shots and gunfire being unleashed without warning was also considered criteria for selection. It was the perception that this tragic event could have happened anywhere. For example, within the last three years, one lone gunman walked into a church have massacred worshipers there, another lone shooter unleashed gunfire at a night club, and several years ago, another lone shooter shot and killed young children at an elementary school.
To evaluate news media coverage of mass shootings, we analyzed a random sample of news stories focused on lone shooters and gun violence from to We began our study period in to capture coverage of the shootings in Colorado, Fort Hood, and elsewhere, during the mids. News sources included two of the highest-circulation national newspapers in the United States in USA Today and Washington Post and three of the highest circulation newspapers in regional areas of dominant influence, including the Northeast New York Times , and Midwest St.
The Audit Bureau of Circulation was used to identify newspaper circulation rates as of After the elimination of duplicates, reprints, and stories with high similarity, the search resulted in a total of news stories. We specifically sought news media with high circulation rates across the country so that we might be able to assess news coverage that reached a large subset of the American people.
We used ProQuest online archives to collect news media stories.
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We then reviewed each story and excluded those that were not focused on lone shooters, race, or tragedy. News stories shorter than words or classified as corrections, book reviews, letters to the editor, business or stock, obituaries, duplicate wire stories, story previews, or calendar reports were also excluded. The final sample consisted of news stories. The large number of news stories collected from multiple sources made it necessary to verify that the themes and words identified during the analysis were, in fact, common among all stories and that they did in fact appear frequently in headlines to warrant attention.
Article ID: Each newspaper had its own identifier-each article was numbered in numerical order with the appropriate identifier listed first e. Coder ID: Indicate the name of the individual who coded the news report according to their initials e. Headline: Enter the headline exactly as it appears.
If the headline consists of a lead headline, followed by a sub-headline, enter them both, separated with a colon. Subjective facts refer to aspects of a news report that are unnecessary for a complete understanding of what happened and that can often introduce bias into the report. Examples of the headlines found will be discussed later in the results section of the paper. Hero: To qualify as hero, the news story must focus on a degree of personal risk.
For example, an individual that returns to a house fire in order to help others get out has would be coded as a heroic action.
American media, according to research, tend to portray White lone shooters often as heroes who use violence as a justified means of resolving conflict and prevailing over others Dietz, Based on research in this area, we expect to find that news coverage about shootings will justify the act by relying on words that portray the use of violence as a heroic act used to seek revenge, often without consequences.
Attacks are designed to create an atmosphere of fear or a sense of threat Lewis, News outlets regularly use mugshots to depict and highlight criminal histories, reinforcing dangerous and racist stereotypes about Blacks. According to Howard, Flennaugh and Terry Black men, according to depictions, are prone to violence, and constantly involved in gangs and drugs.
Therefore, it is hypothesized that these depictions will be found in news stories about tragic, violent crime. Studies have found that lone shooters are typically portrayed as insane only because they killed or injured others for motives that appear to be incomprehensible to a majority of rational Americans Wing, It is plausible that news media report tragic shootings and other crimes in such a way that the reader understands that the violence has to be the work of people suffering some kind of mental disorder. Second, we measured mentions of mental illness and violence, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, sociopathy, psychopath, depression, personality disorder, and psychosis.
We coded the presence of additional, subjective facts, in news stories about mass shootings, mental health, and ethnicity. We reviewed each news story to determine if race of the shooter is associated with external loci of control like substance use, history of abuse or trauma, bullying, stressful life events, homelessness, gang infested living conditions, and dysfunctional family living. It is believed that examining the use of these words in news stories involving tragic crime might begin to help us understand or consider the role the media may plain in explaining the cause of violent acts and how exposure to those national stories might also encourage stereotypes and misunderstandings regarding the causes of mass violence.
Training took place over two weeks; each weekly session lasted one hour. During these sessions, the coders practiced on several news stories so that they and the investigator could identify and resolve problems with the coding scheme. Coders met to discuss reasoning behind their choices and then made the code book more precise based on this discussion. After the coding scheme was modified on the basis of these practice rounds, coding was then independent.
Trial rounds of newspaper analysis were conducted in order to assure inter-coder reliability. The trial sample of data collection came from newspaper articles outside the random sample generated for this project.
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For this study two trained coders, including the primary researcher, participated in coding training sessions. Once each coder was clear on what to look for when coding, each coder coded newspaper articles outside of the random sample produced for this study. The coders examined the news articles, and more precisely, the sentences and phrases in which the unit of analysis was found. To analyze the content of news coverage, we developed a coding instrument. A random sample of ten news stories were independently coded by 4coders to assess inter-coder reliability for each category.
Reliability for each item was measured using Krippendorf alpha statistics, which all met conventional standards for adequate reliability of 0. According to Krippendorff a, b, , alphas greater than. Chi-square tests, as well as frequency tables, were analyzed to test the different research questions. The results section includes the quantitative data gained from conducting the tests. Specifically, we examined whether news media mentions of race and mental illness as a cause of the violent tragedy were assumed to be related.
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During the coding period, there were articles obtained specifically focused on individual shooters. Frequencies and crosstabs were used to show how many stories were found about individual shooters and also used to make comparisons. Chi-square analyses were then used to show whether there was a significant difference in the race of the male shooter and the frequency of the descriptive language used in the story. All articles that featured individual shooters found and published on the landing page of the news websites dealing with the shooter and mass shooting were coded.
Headings and headlines were also tallied for all sources. Articles were also printed from all websites that were found on the main homepage under top stories or headlines. RQ1: Do differences in the types of facts used in a crime story exist among various racial groups? For example, offender and victim race are reported with higher frequencies than Caucasian shooters and offenders.
In other words, to what. Table 1. Frequencies of objective and subjective facts by ethnicity of the shooter in crime stories. This characterization of crime as random and inexplicable is common in most crime reporting Surette, , but we found it especially characteristic of crimes committed by minorities.
However, when the shooter was coded as Caucasian, newspaper coverage often described the motive for the crime as one related to the mental health of the offender. News reports of White shooters typically gave extensive descriptions of the motives of the shooter, implying that there was no other choice but to shoot.
Table 2. Frequencies of Descriptive language found in news stories of mass shootings by race of the shooter. Note: Numbers in the table represent frequency of the descriptor category. Examples of this term found in headlines are:. The findings suggest that the notion that print news stories builds most stories about lone shooters center around certain frames that are serendipitously associated with minority groups, such as Caucasian shooters either as heroes or as individuals suffering from mental illness, and Blacks as thugs while Muslims are terrorists.
We found that print news, at least in their headlines, employ a variety of these stereotypical frames and the deciding factor seems to be race of the shooter. Future research should consider how public exposure to acts of violence in the news media influences public perceptions of the causes for the violence. In fact, studies in this area could determine the effect that frequent exposure to these types of stories has on support for improving public mental health services. The research reported here is an important extension of current literature on media representations of racial and ethnic groups in terms of mass tragedies e.
Importantly, this work yields two broad conclusions.