Johnson & Dixon

Johnson & Dixon - The Howard Journal of...

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Change and the Illusion of Change: Evolving Portrayals of Crime News and Blacks in a Major Market KIRK A. JOHNSON University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi, USA TRAVIS L. DIXON University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA Content analyses of news about Blacks are numerous, but few compare content over time in mainstream and Black-owned media organizations in a single market. This report analyzes local news items from Boston media during 30-day periods in 1986 and 2001. Although crime news concerning Blacks was less frequent in 2001, it dominated mainstream news about Blacks in both years despite journalists’ pledges to overhaul racial-news coverage after questionable reporting of a racially charged insurance hoax in 1989. Conversely, story selection in New England’s oldest Black newspaper showed dramatic change. These findings are consistent with organizational change theory, and add nuance to Wilson and Gutie´rrez’s (1985) model of the evolution of mainstream coverage of minorities. KEYTERMS Black press, Blacks, Boston media, Charles Stuart, news This project was supported by two grants from the William Monroe Trotter Institute of the University of Massachusetts ÿ Boston. It was also supported by the Bowdoin College Faculty Research Fund and the Bowdoin College Faculty Development Fund. We are grateful for student research assistants Zachary Borus, Jane Hummer, Michelle Chan, and Jookyung Lee, and for the invaluable assistance of Craig McEwen, Calvin Moore, Robin Washington, Jack Conboy, and Willa Johnson. Address correspondence to Dr. Kirk A. Johnson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Mississippi, Post Office Box 1854, University, MS 38677. E-mail: The Howard Journal of Communications , 19:125 ÿ 143, 2008 Copyright # ISSN: 1064-6175 print/1096-4649 online DOI: 10.1080/10646170801990979 125
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In October 1989, Charles Stuart, a White fur dealer, left a Boston hospital with his pregnant wife and drove to nearby Mission Hill, a largely Black and Latino neighborhood. There he shot his wife in the head, then dialed 911 on his car phone to blame the atrocity on a Black mugger. Stuart’s life-insurance hoax eventually unraveled, prompting his suicidal leap into Boston Harbor, but not before angry denunciations of the presumed Black-on-White assault by many Whites, including prominent editorialists, and the muscular interrog- ation of scores of Black males by the police, had inflamed racial animus in a city notorious for racial tensions (Goodrich, 1990). Because mainstream news organizations accepted Stuart’s alibi despite inconsistencies in his story, and defended the police for weeks after the murder, the exposure of the hoax was followed by journalists’ vigorous self- scrutiny and public pledges to improve coverage of Boston’s Black com- munity. Thus while the Stuart incident poses obvious questions about racial depictions of danger (Lacayo, 1994; Sinclair, 1994), it also affords an opport-
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Johnson & Dixon - The Howard Journal of...

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