Media History: A Comparison of a Local Newspaper and Television Coverage of a Crime Story in Mid-20th Century America


This case study examines the coverage of a historic crime story by two local newspapers and a local television station and documents similarities and differences among the media coverage. Lipschultz and Hilt indicate that although not the most common, crime is the most covered type of story. Media history scholars need to highlight instances in which local TV stations and newspapers do an especially good job of covering certain kinds of stories which interest and have an impact on the public, in this case a high-profile crime story. Previous research indicates that people rely on local television and news to fully understand a story and to know about local crime, government, school issues, and politics. This case study discusses the initial report of a murder of the wife of a prominent local judge, by two local newspapers and a local television station in January 1967. To obtain the needed documents, the use of a media archive and a public library collection of old newspapers was necessary. Both primary and secondary sources were used. The criteria used for the comparison were as follows: the use of visuals, words, story length and placement, and tone (valence). The results indicate that television provided the most objective information. However, there was one notable exception when a well-known local television news reporter interviewed the judge and was very sympathetic to him. As expected, the newspapers provided the most detailed information because of the length of stories, the number of stories and the use of many photographs of the murder scene and people involved.

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