Study: Local News Portrays White People as Victims, Cops


Local news continues to emphasize crimes that involve white victims, according to a new study published in the journal Communication Research.

The study revisits a landmark paper published in 2000 that found that local news broadcasts overrepresented African-Americans as criminals and underrepresented them as police officers, while doing the opposite for white people.

The more recent study examined a sample of news broadcasts in Los Angeles between 2008 and 2012, including Spanish-language broadcasts, to evaluate how representations may be changing. Television portrayals are compared with data about crime perpetration and victimhood published by the California Department of Justice (CDOJ) and the Los Angeles Times, as well as employment records published by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

White people were more likely to be depicted as homicide victims (35 percent) on the broadcasts analyzed than to be victimized by homicide according to crime reports (13 percent). Nearly three-quarters of the police officers portrayed on television were white, while just more than half of the officers in Los Angeles County and Orange County are white.

But portrayals of African-Americans on local news have improved, according to the study.

“Black depictions have greatly improved in this investigation compared with prior research. Blacks are accurately portrayed across all roles including as perpetrators, victims and officers,” the study's author, Travis Dixon wrote. Dixon said the findings were “unexpected (because) African-Americans were greatly overrepresented as criminals” in the 2000 study.

The study also found that while Hispanics continue to be underrepresented as officers and victims, but are represented proportionally as criminals.

Dixon noted that a larger sample of news shows and topics should be studied, in particular depictions related to immigration and terrorism.

“Recent studies on both of these issues suggest that Latinos are linked to undocumented immigration while Muslims are linked to terrorism in the news,” Dixon wrote.

The full study is available for purchase HERE.

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