Media’s reporting on gun violence does not reflect reality

A new study looks at media reports in three cities and finds half of victims were covered in the news, but a disproportionate amount of attention was given to less common circumstances and victims.

A new study, led by the doctors who regularly treat gunshot victims, examines the way the media covers shootings and finds that news reports place a disproportionate emphasis on fatal and multiple shootings, while also focusing on uncommon victims, such as women. The researchers fear that the gap between what is covered—and what goes uncovered—in the news could be painting an unrealistic picture of gun violence, which might affect the way the public perceives it. The study is published in Preventive Medicine.

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“As a trauma surgeon, and someone who feels very connected to my patients, I take notice of gun violence coverage in the news—most often the lack thereof. I am particularly saddened when I find there was no media reporting on the shootings that have caused injury and death to my patients, which is most often the case,” says the study’s lead author, Elinore Kaufman, an assistant professor of surgery in traumatology in the Perelman School of Medicine. “While I was not surprised to see data on under-reporting in the media, I was startled to see how much it varied related to victim characteristics.”

Kaufman and her fellow researchers drew on police reports and information kept by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group, to monitor media reporting during 2017 in three different cities: Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Rochester, NY. Of the 1,801 victims of intentional shootings (outside of self-inflicted shootings), the researchers saw that almost exactly half, 900, were covered in the news.

Of these victims, roughly 83% were Black, but just 49% of them made the news. Moreover, if the victim was a man, he was about 40% less likely to be covered on the news than a woman.

Disparities in news coverage continued when the deadliness of the shootings was examined. Although 16% of the victims from the analyzed shootings died, these fatal shootings accounted for 83% of the cases covered by the news.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.