A Content Analysis of Canadian Media Coverage of Crime Rates Abstract

AContent Analysis of Canadian Media Coverage of Crime Rates


This contentanalysis sought to explore the way in which local media covers crime.It is imperative to note that only a few studies have previouslyfocused on the rate of crime and media’s presentation of crime.Therefore, this report served as a tentative inquiry into whetherlocal media’s presentation of crimes reflects the reports on crimestatistics. In most cases, the knowledge of crime rates in Canada islimited to what individuals receive in media publications thus, itis significant to explore the accurateness of messages communicated.A content analysis of articles relevant to crime rates and crimecoverage as reported in Daily and Mail, Metro Toronto,and Toronto Star provided primary sources for the researchpaper. The research paper used Davis (1990) study to design andimplement the archival content analysis. Furthermore, it utilizedDavis’ tenets, as posited by Palysand Atchison (2013) to explicate the extent to which crimenews coverage reflects the actual statistics of crime in Canada.

AContent Analysis of Canadian Media Coverage of Crime Rates


Information on crime coverage and crime rates is greatly profoundand people expect the media to carefully report or cover crimeincidents. There have been instances where the media providedambiguous, subjective, or flawed information regarding crime usuallyby failing to research properly or by obtaining information fromundependable sources. For example, Richardson and Fullerton (2016)report that editors from Ming Pao have asserted to havingprovided incorrect information on crime rates. The editors reportedhaving published unconfirmed reports especially in theirinvestigative stories (Richardson &amp Fullerton, 2016).Furthermore, the editors said that some of the witnesses they reliedon in reporting the news may have been unreliable while some of theinformation they gathered from police may have been inconclusive.Thus, it was significant to determine whether the media’s coverageof crime reflected the actual reports on crime data.


The overallobjective of the research was to explore the magnitude to whichmedia’s coverage of crime in Canada reflects the state of affairsor the actual level of crime in the country. The research’sspecific objectives encompassed:

  1. To relate what the media reports and cover and the actual happenings in different localities across Canada

  2. To determine which crime incidences, violent or non-violent, the media reported mostly

  3. To find what concepts the media usually utilized in reporting or covering crime news

  4. To find any link or similarity among newspaper articles from the same media house in reporting crime


The researchquestion for the content analysis were:

  1. Does the media’s coverage of crime news reflect the actual happenings?

  2. What are the most reported crime incidences reported in Canada, violent or non-violent?

  3. Do different newspapers cover crime news the same way?

  4. How has media coverage of crime news changed over time?

Overviewof the analysis

Data sources,sampling, and analytical techniques

As numerousscholars have noted, any assortment of print media can form part oftexts to be coded (White &amp Marsh, 2006). However, a researchershould consider usage, representativeness, and convenience of thearticles in order to analyze them critically. For this research,Daily and Mail, Toronto Star, and Metro Torontonewspaper articles in archives were analyzed. The newspapers arepublicized in English daily with high weekly circulation. While theToronto Star is relatively left-wing than Daily and Mail,Metro Toronto is right wing. Globe and Mail usuallycaters to the elite and focuses mostly on politics, economics, andbusiness while Toronto Star and Metro Toronto have awide focus. Thus, the newspapers offer a dynamic basis for which tocode and gather the sample. However, it is significant to note thatthe press clippings utilized were neither inclusive norrepresentative of all crime coverage. The newspaper articles codedand utilized in the analysis were publicized between 2009 and 2014.The time frame permitted for a recent snapshot of crime rates andcriminal activities coverage and allowed the researcher to determinethe association between what the media covered and the existing crimestatistics. Only articles reporting on crimes were reviewed astextual units, as they offered the best indication of the researchproblem and question. The research identified 75 articles, countingthose originating from newswire releases and press agencies thatfailed to bear the signature of a broadcasting outlet or those thatfailed to deal with the subject of the study. Ultimately, a total of30 newspaper articles (7 from Daily and Mail, 12 from TorontoStar, and 11 from Metro Toronto) were identified wereretained for the purpose of the analysis. This is because from theoriginal newswire and press releases identified, Toronto Starhad 30 articles, Metro Toronto had 27, and Daily and Mailhad 18.

All the 18 crime-related newspaper articles were subjected toqualitative and quantitative content analysis. The quantitativeanalysis coding featured the origin of the story, type of criminalactivity, the location of criminal activity, sources cited in somecases, and causes of the crime. However, the coding units were notmutually exclusive. The origin of the story looked at the city,region, or territory where the story originated, the type of criminalactivity dealt with any crime as defined by the media, while thecauses of the crime looked at the reasons behind the crime as alludedby the media. Location looked at where the crime took place whilesources looked at the cited sources of the story, for example,witnesses and police.

The process forsampling or research was as follows:

  1. Newspapers for each year under review were obtained and the newspaper articles to be utilized as units of text for the content analysis were identified

  2. The newspaper articles were coded according to the affixed scheme

  3. The research identified trends observed in the topics and approaches revealed in archival publication material.

The scheme wasaltered and adapted with many categories removed or added to fitarchival analysis. In particular, the research did not examine a bodyof literature as it was not important in drawing a link betweennewspapers’ coverage of crimes and the existing crime statistics.

Appropriatenessand relevance of the data sources used

The content analysis of the newspaper articles provided insight onthe coverage of criminal activities and crime rates in Canada. Theappropriateness of newspaper articles in conducting the archivalcontent analysis touched on the fact that it was easy to trackreporting on numerous stories and topics and provide excellent andquantifiable analysis. The data was obtained through searching forindicators in news stories and articles rather than searching forspecific cases. This was appropriate since the study was constructedas a phenomenon. The utilization of newspapers to conduct the contentanalysis was appropriate since newspapers provide comprehensivedetail when reporting. Unlike T.V or radio, newspapers attempt toprovide as much content about a story as possible (DeKeseredy,2013 Collins, 2013. Most newspapers report on differentaspects and cover many stories, unlike news bulletins. Furthermore,it was easy to access newspaper articles for the period underconsideration.

In considering the relevance of a particular article, several aspectsbecame apparent. The articles were sampled and coded while keywordswere utilized to determine the relevance of the article. Wordoccurrence counts to categorize words of possible interest wereemployed while KWIC (Key Word in Context) search was used to test forthe reliability of word usage. Keywords such as crime, burglary,shoplifting, fraud, prostitution, theft, drugs, rape, arson, attack,gang, assault, careless driving, and police were used. Only articlesthat reported on a criminal activity or rise in crime rates wereconsidered. Letters to the editor, editorials, opinions, and reviewswere not considered as they do not provide primary information oncrimes. Furthermore, newspaper articles were deemed as significanceto the research if they provided the location of the crime, sourcesof information regarding the crime, the type of crime, and partiesinvolved. The most fundamental basis for determining whether anarticle dealt with a nonviolent or a violent crime was the use offorce. Violent crimes were determined as so if force was used, thevictim was injured, or a weapon was used in committing the felonywhile non-violent crimes were determined by the loss or damagecaused. Non-violent crimes considered included prostitution, fraud,theft, drug possession, bribery, racketeering, and most forms ofwhite-collar crime such as corruption. Violent crimes includedassault, homicides, robbery, battery, rape, trafficking, andcarjacking.


Quantitative findings were presented and included the type of crimereported, location, sources, and origin of the story. The qualitativeanalysis built on the quantitative findings by garnering certainpatterns as exposed by the quantitative findings and examining thecontent in terms of concealed messages and language usage. Asillustrated in the reviewed articles stories originated from Ontario(8 or 25%), Quebec (4 or 13.33%), Prairies (7 or 23.33%), National (4or 13.33%), Pacific (5 or 16.67%), and Atlantic (2 or 6.67%). Crimesreported included possession of drugs (6), assault (2), prostitution(3), theft (3), fraud (3), robbery (2), drive by shooting (1),gambling (2), extortion (3, one extortion case involved violentdemands), homicide (3), and rape (2). The newspaper articles reportedhigh incidents of homicide, drugs, and theft in Quebec and Ontario.Of the 7 identified articles from Daily and Mail, most of themdealt with non-violent crimes. The newspaper articles reported 2fraud cases, 2 cases regarding drug possession, 1 homicide case, 1gambling case, and 1 theft case. Toronto Star reported 12crime cases of which 3 were drug possession, 2 were assault, 1 wasrobbery, 1 homicide, 1 rape, 1 drive-by shooting, and 2 extortioncases. Metro Toronto reported 3 prostitution cases, 1homicide, 1 rape, 1 extortion, 1 gambling, 1 drug, 1 theft, 1 fraud,and 1 robbery.


Discussion offindings

According to the findings, drug possession was the most reportedcrime followed by homicide, prostitution, fraud, extortion, andtheft. The findings failed to reflect the actual crime statisticssince the violent crimes reported in the newspaper articles weregreater than the 10% committed according to the report. Carrington(2013) posits that newspapers do not always paint the true situationof an occurrence, as they only report news depending on theirimportance, profitability, and connection. As such, this does notmean that more coverage of violent crimes correlates with a higherlevel of violent crimes. The newspaper articles reported a total of 9violent crimes, which represented 30% of the crimes reported, whichwas way higher than what crime statistics reported. However, it isimportant to note that the findings only reflected coverage from 3newspapers, which may not have been conclusive given that Canada hasmore than a dozen newspapers with a circulation of more than 500,000each. Of the 3 newspapers, Metro Toronto reported the highestnon-violent cases, followed by Daily and Mail and finallyToronto Star. However, in percentage, Daily and Mail reporteda high number of non-violent cases at 85.71, which was within thereported crime statistics, Metro Toronto reported 63.64%, and TorontoStar reported 41.67%.

Strengths andweaknesses of the work

Contentanalysis is significant in exploring a body of material for distinctphysiognomies. A researcher can then evaluate data with reference toprior scholarship or concept to acquire inferences about the natureof a script or set of texts (White &amp Marsh, 2006). In conductinga content analysis of the defined question, it is important to notethat the analysis has a direct operation on writings of humancommunication and is fairly unobtrusiveness compared to otherapproaches such as interviews and questionnaires. Content analysisallows a researcher to understand human communication by analyzingtexts, films, graphics, or pictures (White &amp Marsh, 2006).Through the procedure of classifying articles and coding of thetopic, it was possible to arrive at some credible conclusions. Codingallowed the researcher to identify the required article in order tocritically analyze the article. Furthermore, it was possible tosystematically survey a large group of texts. Once coding wascompleted, it was fairly easy to review numerous newspaper articles.

However, inconducting the analysis some weaknesses of the approach becameapparent. One of the most significant weaknesses of the work was thatthe analysis only evaluated the surface characteristics of eachnewspaper article without deliberating on the complexity of each unitof the article. Most important is the fact that the method wasintrinsically reductive and time-consuming. The analysis involvedcoding and analyzing different newspaper articles, which was complexand tedious considering the articles analyzed only touched on thecoverage of crimes in Canada. Because of lack of funding and time,the analysis was small-scale and did not examine a greater number ofnewspaper articles. Besides, after introducing a degree ofinterpretation, the analysis of newspaper articles was susceptible tosubjective construal and the notions of meaning. Although theresearch included a dynamic coding scheme with mutually exclusive anddefined categories, for example, articles reporting on non-violentcrimes versus those reporting on violent crimes, individual andpredisposed interpretation was obvious.

Considerationsof external and internal validity

It isimperative to know that a methodology is always applied in theservice of a research problem or question. As such, internal andexternal validity of the implications made on the grounds ofinformation from one analytical technique requires the utilization ofnumerous sources of data. Palys andAtchison (2013) assert that a researcher should attempt tohave some sort of validation exploration where possible built intothe developed design. This means that validity was an importantaspect in conducting the research since failure to include numeroussources of information would have developed an unreliable conclusion.In order to cross-validate the conclusions of the content analysis,surveys on the reliability of the newspaper articles were necessary.From the conclusions provided, the content analysis was valid sinceanalyzed articles related to other measures, as well as, relativelyconsistent across.

Improvementsand future research

The researchshould have employed the use of more newspaper contents by includingmore newspapers and newspaper articles to strengthen its validity andcredibility. The content analysis should have been supplemented withsocial constructionist concepts. Furthermore, a thorough comparisonbetween the reviewed newspapers should have been conducted with anintense focus on past credibility of the newspapers. In some cases,newspapers report stories in a similar manner, for example, almostall major newspapers report a significant criminal activity thus,the research should have analyzed other sources of media. Doing sowould have helped in construing information from an extensive field(Richardson &amp Fullerton, 2016). Furthermore, future researchshould evaluate different sources such as websites, documentaries,televised news segments, and social media sites. If an expandedversion of the research were to be carried, it would examine morenewspapers to allow for comparisons between national and cite-widenewspapers. Future research should also include editorials, opinions,letters to the editor, reviews, columns, and feature articles toevaluate the differences in the structure of crime coverage and ratesamong different types of publications. Future research should examinethe timeline of analysis and conduct ethnographic explorations ofreporters and advocacy groups to offer further information on claimsand sources of authority.


The research sought to explore the extent to which media coverage ofcrime in Canada reflects the actual level of crime in the country. Acontent analysis of articles relevant to crime coverage as reportedin Daily and Mail, Metro Toronto, and Toronto Starprovided primary sources for the research paper and revealed that themedia does not reflect the actual state of affairs. According to thefindings, the media did not correlate the official report on crimestatistics, but this does not mean that the media underreportednonviolent crimes. Factors such as the use of a small sample ofarticles and newspapers and archived content may have contributed tothe findings. Thus, future research should include commentaries,letters to the editor, reviews, columns, and feature articles toprovide refined findings. Furthermore, future studies shouldscrutinize the timeline of analysis and undertake ethnographicexaminations of newspapers to provide further data on claims andsources of authority


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