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Bad boys and girls, yesterday and today: A century of print media perspectives on youthful offending

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(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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In order to assess the relevance of claims often found in contemporary print media accounts that youth crime is out of control and that youth today are worse than ever, this dissertation examines Canadian print media coverage of youthful offending throughout the twentieth century. The research endeavour is situated within the existing research literatures on youth crime and justice and media coverage of crime. A sample of 1937 news items from three Canadian daily newspapers (The Toronto Star, The Province from Vancouver and La Presse from Montréal) is examined using quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques and from perspectives that draw on cultural studies and feminist media studies. Quantitative analysis reveals certain patterns in coverage over time as well as similarities and differences between the three newspapers examined. The qualitative thematic analysis exposes several key narratives in the print media discussion of youth crime and justice. This research confirms existing research literature in several ways, while also offering new insights about the social construction of youthful offending in the print media. The media simplify and decontextualize youth crime for its presentation as news. Official sources, particularly polic e, play a privileged role in shaping the news. Since the 1950 s, however, print media coverage of youth crime has shifted significantly in terms of both quantity and quality of coverage. The narrative themes of fear and violence feature more prominently in the post-1950 discussions. Explanations of youthful offending are largely absent from or trivialized in the coverage. Moreover, when they are offered, explanations of and responses to youth crime do not tend to challenge the status quo in any significant manner. They largely draw on the conventional paradigms represented by the Classical and Positivist Schools of Criminology. The coverage gives very little consideration to the implications of the broader social structure and context for youth. Notably, gender stereotypes and dichotomies between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are prevalent in the portrayals of offenders and their families, as well as victims. Dominant ideologies of gender, sexuality, family, race and class run through the portrayals of individuals and families in the coverage.
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