Youth and youth crime: a moral panic. a content analysis of four Ontario newspapers

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Bremner, Melanie Anne
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University of Guelph

This thesis is an investigation of the issue of youth and crime and the creation and continuance of a moral panic. It is a content analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) of four Ontario newspapers wherein youth crime related articles were collected (N = 715) and the impact of newspaper reporting on society's view of youth examined. Divided into three main parts the key newspaper components examined were: Variables to Describe Media Presentation of Article, Variables to Describe Article, and the Overall Ideological Presentation and Moral Panic. In addressing the presentation of the sampled articles five themes (Youth Crime and Morality Play, Decontextualization of Crime, Exception as Rule, Invocation of Experts, and Victimization as Discursive Mechanism) and four ideologies (crime control, justice, welfare, and community change) are examined. The results of this study are consistent with predictions that the presentation of, and the themes and ideologies presented in, the articles have a large impact on the perception its readers have about youth and youth crime. It was shown that despite relatively balanced newspaper reporting, the negative articles seem to be more prominent and overpowering than the positive ones and it is this sensationalized presentation of youth crime as random, violent and ever-increasing that leave readers with the notion that all youth are committing violent, random criminal activities and that the number of such incidents is increasing in epidemic proportions. It is the sensationalized news reporting of negative youth related articles that creates a fear of youth by the public, and ultimately a moral panic.

Youth crime, Moral panic, Ontario newspapers, Reader perception, Sensationalized