Jill Doerner

Advisor Department

Sociology and Anthropology




Crime; violence; mass media; crime news


A literature review was conducted to determine the most common patterns in violence- related topics portrayed in mass media. Psychological research suggests that violence is a by-product of society: as a learned behavior, violence and aggression are experienced through modeling by adults, peers, and outside sources. With the vast emergence of mass media in the 20th and 21st centuries, mass media channels have been branded “responsible” for the formation of aggressive behaviors in children and young adults. The relationship between publications of violent events in mass media and viewers’ role is far more complicated. Mass media is a common way of communicating new information and serves as a source of entertainment. When speaking of crime, the line between news and entertainment is often blurred. Mass media, like daily newspapers and news channels, present the most up-to-date information about many events, including crime. Serving as the gatekeepers between criminal events and the public, these news outlets have the power to maintain what stays “hot,” the power to leave out certain details, or to present events in the light that is most appealing to the average viewer. Sensational, most gruesome cases become especially newsworthy. Cases like robbery, rape, murder, and aggravated assault amount to only 11% of all criminal cases; serial killings amount for less than 1% of all criminal cases; and the vast majority of incarcerated adults are nonviolent offenders. Nevertheless, it appears that these cases are far more commonplace and frequent. The frequency paradox, a term developed while working on this project, is the irrational idea that random violent crimes are far more prevalent and commonplace than they actually are, due to the frequency and the dramatized way in which mass media outlets present them to the viewers. Only one-fifth of violent crimes made national news broadcasts in the past twenty years; the majority of them include elements of “sensationalism” – especially those that are violent, have unusually high death tolls, and tend to stir political discussions. The frequency paradox may be responsible for creating moral panics, a public outcry for political change. The frequency paradox, however, does not apply to all channels of mass media, but only those that value quantity over quality. New-generation mass media, like podcasts, YouTube channels, true crime books, and unsolved mystery documentaries have created a space for crime-obsessed individuals to talk about true crime to other crime-obsessed individuals. New-generation mass media creates a deviated culture from those who are merely interested in “consuming” crime as mindless entertainment. New-generation mass media calls for help from the investigator within us, spending hours listening to facts and evidence of crimes, and to aid in solving them. This contemplative space challenges the frequency paradox with public action to solve murder mysteries and disappearance cases. This project will suggest an idea that emergence of new generation true crime media is a product of socially-aware, socially- educated, socially-connected Millennials...