The Reporting Trajectories of Top Homicide Cases in the Media: A Case Study of The Times



Abstract: This study describes the reporting trajectories of the 13 cases that received the most coverage in a leading British newspaper, The Times, over a period of 23 years (1977 to 1999 inclusive). We have classified these as ‘mega-cases’. This approach moves beyond merely measuring the coverage of cases to charting how cases can escalate to become ‘moral panics’, move into a shared ‘general knowledge’ of killing or, in some cases, come to occupy iconic status. Some ‘mega’ cases fade from consciousness when viewed over a period of time. In ‘mega-cases’ there is an unexpected ‘primary incident’ that makes the case newsworthy in the first instance. Then the ‘formal process’ helps to manage a homicide within accepted and acceptable boundaries. In broad terms, the media trajectories of these ‘mega-cases’ following the ‘primary incident’ are predictable. However, further unexpected ‘incidents’ unrelated to ‘process’– suicides, attacks by other prisoners, escapes – challenge the predictability of these ‘mega-cases’. The trajectories of homicide cases that begin to link in with wider societal agendas are the most difficult to predict.