Youth Media Council

2002 study of Bay Area TV news coverage

Public derives opinions about crime from the “news”

 77 percent of the public say they form their opinions about social issues like crime from what they read and watch in the news.

Despite a 33 percent drop in juvenile crime since 1993, two-thirds of the public still believe crime is rising.

From 1990 -1998,the national crime rate dropped by 20 percent, but news coverage of crime increased by 83 percent.

In a 1996 California poll, 60% of respondents believed that juveniles were responsible for most violent crime, although youth were actually responsible for 13 percent of violent crime that year.

The disparity between coverage of youth & their real-life conditions has led to the criminalization of an entire generation.

In California, two-thirds of adults are white, while three-fifths of youth are of color.  Such demographics leads to a fear among white adults that provides a backdrop for criminalizing news coverage of youth of all races — “white hot fear”

The 1990s were a period of misperception about youth crime and juvenile justice. Despite plummeting youth crime rates, the fear of youth crime led to public policy decisions that increased incarceration and made the juvenile justice system more punitive.

Coverage of Youth Disproportionately Focused on Crime more than half the coverage of youth we examined was about crime.  63 percent portrayed youth as either victims or perpetrators of crime. Despite the fact that by 1998, the rate of violent juvenile crime had dropped to the lowest level in 25 years, more than half the coverage of youth we examined was about crime. 

For each story on Youth & Poverty, There Were 11 Stories on Youth & Crime  Though youth poverty continues to rise & youth crime & victimization continue to fall, incidents of crime received more attention than conditions of youth poverty.

Stories about pets & animals appeared more than 4x as often as stories about youth poverty – 55:12

Fewer Than 5 Percent of News Stories About Youth Mentioned Poverty  Today, 20 percent of youth live at or below poverty level, but youth poverty is not a focus of news coverage.  As unemployment for teens skyrockets to more than 4x the adult rate, child poverty remains one of news media’s most under-covered issues.

 MISSING VOICES:  Youth voices Missing from News Coverage of Youth Of the 257 news stories examined by youth researchers, youth were quoted in only 30 percent of the stories. Yet police, prosecutors, and politicians were quoted in approximately half of the stories examined.

Stories About Youth and Crime Almost Never Quoted Youth, Especially The Voices of Youth Advocates Were Almost Completely Missing from

News Stories About Youth  In almost 70 % of the news stories, no youth advocates or public defenders were quoted.

In Stories About Youth, Law Enforcement and Politicians Were Quoted More Often Than Any Other Sources Police, prosecutors, and politicians were quoted in approximately half(49.8 percent) of the stories about youth. Public defenders for youth were not quoted in any of the stories.

 LACK OF CONTEXT:  More Than Half of News Stories About Youth Failed to Examine Solutions or Causes for the Issues and Problems


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