Monsters and angels: A comparison of broadsheet and tabloid press coverage of child murders from the United States and United Kingdom, 1930--2000
The news media coverage of two young girls abducted in the UK in the summer of 2002 appeared unprecedented, both in terms of the scale of media interest, but also the simple juxtaposition of good versus evil which pervaded the coverage. This dissertation examines press coverage of twelve similar cases from the US and UK over three historical periods: the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s, in both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. The analysis focuses on the use of narratives, visuals and language. It shows that the coverage from both countries, in both types of newspapers and across the three periods included the same broad characterizations of the offenders and victims as 'monsters' and 'angels'. The coverage from the 1990s however, was significantly different to the previous two periods on three levels: first, the coverage was less focused on 'institutional' narratives and more so on the emotional and visual elements of the story, with a new emphasis on the surviving victims' families. Second, the sexual elements and motivations for the crimes were highlighted, with the offenders labeled as 'evil', 'predatory' pedophiles, rather than murderers. Third, the risks posed by these individuals were framed within a belief that modern society is characterized by new and more dangerous threats. The result was newspaper coverage which either directly, via the editorial pages, or indirectly through the letters pages called for more restrictive forms of social control and surveillance. This study demonstrates that newspapers remain one of the primary locations for moral storytelling in society.
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