The January 2012 report, released by the Ms. Foundation for Women and the Berkeley Media Studies Group, credits the media for its use of precise language in the days immediately following Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on charges of child sexual abuse. However, the report criticizes the media for its shortsightedness in discussing prevention of future abuse and ultimately gives the media a firm “C” grade.
Researchers examined 155 pieces from nine days of news coverage and commentary beginning on the day of Jerry Sandusky’s arrest. They note that news coverage of the Sandusky case differs in several distinct ways from how child sexual abuse is typically covered in the media. Sports writers, typically absent from the discussion of child sexual abuse, covered the topic. Additionally, reporters crafted an institutional story that outlined what Penn State leaders did not do. This introduced a story with a broader prospective—one about institutional accountability. Finally, the media used precise language to describe the abuse, perhaps because reporters had access to the grand jury testimony, which used very specific language.
The study credits the media for telling a story with a broad prospective and using precise language, but is critical of what the media did not include in its coverage. Less than one-third of the general news coverage included a mention of child abuse solutions or child abuse prevention efforts. Among sports coverage, 5 percent highlighted prevention. Additionally, the articles that did mention solutions tended to focus on actions after the abuse had been committed, such as reporting abuse, rather than measures intended to prevent abuse from occurring.
The study concludes with recommendations for journalists on ways to improve coverage as well as recommendations for advocates to help push for prevention policies.