Study: Media coverage of youth crime unbalanced

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as violent crime rates shrink, news outlets unfairly focus on young Latino and black men who commit acts of violence, a media think tank says.

The result of the skewed coverage is a public that believes youth crime is on the rise and supports policies based on that notion, the Berkeley Media Studies group asserted Tuesday.

The research project, “Off Balance: Youth, Race and Crime in the News,” examined crime coverage in media outlets across the nation.

“People rely on the news media for accurate information,” said Lori Dorfman, an author of the report and director of the Berkeley research branch. “When it comes to crime, youth and people of color, they’re getting confusion rather than clarity — part of the story, not the whole story.”

Media groups said the report revealed offenses that were mostly unintentional.

“Just as in all private companies, there are some incidents of racism, but the focus on youth crime is due in part to the school shooting phenomenon,” said Michael Hamilton, director of the California Broadcasters Association. “It has generated an intense interest in the subject.”

The study contained several major findings.

Homicide coverage on network news increased 473% from 1990 to 1998, while homicides decreased 32.9% during that time, the report said. While homicides committed by youth declined by 68% from 1993 to 1999, 62% of the public reported they believed youth crime was on the rise.

The report also said black people too often are portrayed as perpetrators and are underrepresented as victims.

Minority groups also are treated unfairly in other ways, the report said.

For example, a study of Indianapolis newspapers found that if a suspect in a violent crime was black, the average article length was longer. Also, newspapers rarely reported violent crime when the suspect was white, the study said.

And even though Latinos now comprise the nation’s largest minority, the report concluded they remain invisible in the news media, except in crime reports.

The study makes several recommendations for print and broadcast news organizations:

* Balance crime stories with stories about youth accomplishments.
* Conduct voluntary audits of news content.
* Put crime into context by providing statistics of crime rates with crime stories.

The report drew support from civil rights groups that have long argued that media coverage is unfair.

“The news media’s routine portrayal of African-Americans and people of color as criminals is an outrage,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.