Abstract: Early on the morning of January 7, 2007, University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her boyfriend Christopher Newsom disappeared from the parking lot of a Knoxville apartment complex. According to police reports and court documents, the couple was carjacked, kidnapped, and subjected to hours of physical and mental torture before they were killed. Five people were arrested in the following weeks in connection with the crimes – four black men and one black woman. Both Christian and Newsom were white. The unusual circumstances of these crimes and the racial divisions between the victims and perpetrators drew a lot of attention from community members and local news media around Knox County.
This study used content analysis to examine how WBIR-TV, the highest-rated local television news station in the Knoxville market, presented its nightly 6 p.m. coverage of the murder trials of the three male perpetrators eventually convicted of murder – Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson and George Thomas. Individual news stories were coded for both components (video, sound, still images) and content (descriptive words and phrases). The findings determined that race played less of an explicit role in the daily news coverage than expected. However, WBIR presented viewers with dual frames in its coverage. The first, a narrative frame, concentrated on daily courtroom activities. Video used in the coverage showed viewers a second frame centered on the victims’ families. These elements contributed to the construction of cognitive webs for newscast viewers, aided by WBIR’s use of a template familiar in television news crime coverage.