Tuesday, March 30, 2004
MAKING CONNECTIONS. Susanna at Cut on the Bias has some interesting observations about how some in the media are framing stories about missing college students in Minnesota and its environs.
Why were these four cases connected? Do the police have any evidence that they are connected? Or is this a media construction?Urban legends in the making.
I think you know the answer. In the late 1970s, Mark Fishman published a scholarly article - Crime Waves as Ideology about the construction of crime waves in the media. He tracked stories about attacks on elderly people, and noted how the numbers of articles ebbed and flowed over a finite period when actual crimes against the elderly remained static (and homicide actually went down). A lot of studies and writing has been done since then on media framing, and this is it in action.
When something happens, journalists immediately do two things: they assess its story potential, and they cast about for any other events that share similarities. It's always more compelling to have two or 10 of the same thing than one isolated incident, especially if it's by itself relatively unremarkable. In this case, they chose to focus on the missing college student in the Cheese States aspect of the event, with its unspoken shadow of "serial killer" in the background. That's always a huge story - as you can see by the reaction to the recent re-emergence of a serial killer in Wichita. The likelihood that any one of us will die at the hands of a serial killer is less remote than getting struck by lightning. But that's not how it seems, when the media grab hold of these stories.