Archive for Saturday, January 14, 2012

KU professor studies how media cover mothers who kill kids

January 14, 2012


Barbara Barnett admits the topic of her research is grim.

Barbara Barnett is an associate professor and associate dean at the Kansas University School of Journalism. She researches how the media covers mothers who kill their children.

Barbara Barnett is an associate professor and associate dean at the Kansas University School of Journalism. She researches how the media covers mothers who kill their children.

Barnett, an associate professor and associate dean at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas University, researches media coverage on mothers who kill their children.

Barnett had a career in the media before she had one researching it. In the 1970s and ’80s, she worked as a reporter in Charlotte, N.C. In 2003, she received her doctorate in journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she began her research on women in the media.

“Mothers have an elevated status in society,” she said. “I started thinking about how not being a mother or being a bad mother is perceived.”

Barnett became an assistant professor at KU in 2003. She has published several articles on high-profile child murder cases, examining how the media portray women and stereotypes about them.

Barnett said media coverage centers on the belief that all women are natural-born caregivers. She said this stereotype has cast poor mothers as the “worst of the worst.”

“People are bad fathers and there is not the same stigma,” she said.

Barnett said the media typically report these cases as a new phenomenon. But she said this type of violence has occurred throughout history and has appeared in literature. She also found media coverage focused on married white women because society least expects them to commit these crimes.

“If you got it all and you harm your children, people are like, ‘Whoa,’” she said. “You have everything; how could this happen to you?”

Barnett said reporting usually ends after the mother is imprisoned. Barnett said that once that women goes away, society thinks the problem does, too.

“What doesn’t get enough attention is the causes,” she said.

She said she hoped the media would examine the circumstances that led to the crime. This shift in coverage could help professionals understand why some women cope with parenthood stress while others harm their children, Barnett said.

Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, an associate professor at KU School of Social Welfare, said there are local resources to address problems like poverty and mental illness, which both place children at risk for abuse.

In addition to examining new cases, Barnett said she wants to research how the media cover mothers and fathers and cases outside of the United States.


Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

Why does there need to be a study performed. Universities ceased training people to be true journalists long ago. The folks that graduate from modern journalism school invariably end up as whores for the media empire whose sole mission is to sell advertising. As a consequence, all of the stories on women who kill their children are primitive in concept and exceedingly exploitive by nature.

Pamela Shanks 6 years, 5 months ago

There has been quite a bit of media coverage of the post partum depression as a cause.

ozmaster2 6 years, 5 months ago

I would like you, Sychophant, to expound on the topic. I am interested in this subject and I would like to see more study of it. And about when do you think universities stopped training people to be true journalists?

Richard Wade 6 years, 5 months ago

Sychophant is on the mark. Just check the KU School of Journalism's recent remake of their curriculum. They removed objectivity as a goal of journalism. The dean said objectivity wasn't appropriate because information is inherently subjective. Historically, the truth is that the business side has always been most important and journalists (including William Allen White) always sought to sway public opinion above objectivity. The introduction of objectivity (prominent while I attended KU j school) was a chance to make journalism more professional. Liberal meant open-minded as in being open-minded to see both sides of the story you were reporting so that readers could get all the verifiable information they needed to make up their own mind. Journalism has turned back to its roots. Making money comes first. As Prof. Bremner taught us: Journalism is a business. Nothing wrong with that except greed. Make no mistake, journalists can be as greedy as any corporation. Some have no problem running stories without verification to be the first to break the story, they give no thought to presenting the other side of a story, and some falsify stories. They use anonymous sources with for no good reason and never correct themselves with the same gusto they first report inaccurately. Hypocrisy is at the heart of journalism today. Don't touch their first amendment rights to free speech because they are the stalwarts of "protecting our liberty." But practice your free speech in criticizing their shoddy work and it's just their job to provide information and make a profit. Thus, the rise of "opinion journalism," an accepted term in the business of journalism. It's an oxymoron but it is lucrative and that's what matters most to journalism today.

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

RFW, you obviously know a lot more about journalism than i do. Thanks for taking my initial comment and giving it some meat and substance. Well done.

ThePilgrim 6 years, 5 months ago

Good comments rfwhawk. Like you, when I took journalism classes the instructors walked the line between the power of the press to influence and the need for objectivity. Now they might as well admit what they are doing and go ahead and teach the power of propaganda.

What really amazes me is the number of students who still study journalism. Why? The field is dead and bastions of journalism like the largest papers (NY Times, etc) have been forced to slash their staff, losing out to bloggers and youtube. The people who take journalism now, and counsel students to do so, must live in some weird alternate reality.

Leah_O 6 years, 4 months ago

Do you think the cause is the university and not the media itself? Do you know if other schools are doing the same thing you mentioned?

ozmaster2 6 years, 5 months ago

I saw Leonard Pitts speak a couple of years ago at the William Allen White awards and he had a smilar, but yet different take. He said that people believed anything they read on the internet and how ridiculous that was. And how "real" journalism must still be credible But why do you think this topic, or any other one, is any different? I really want to know more about this specific topic. So what do you suggest? Everyone do all of their own research? And is this professor to be discouraged because she is a journalist? This is a black thought. I'm a grad of the KU J-school, too, the class of '85. And I sell advertising. Are you really saying that the two are mutually exclusive? Good journalism and ad sales? Not trying to provoke, just wondering.

ThePilgrim 6 years, 5 months ago

"If you got it all and you harm your children, people are like, ‘Whoa,’” she said. This professor's comments do not seem on par with what we would/should expect from someone with a doctorate. Unbelievable.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

30-40 years ago, the TV networks executives changed from news to entertainment and told them the news departments they had to generate more ad revenue. BBC and NPR and Christian Science Monitor are still pretty 'objective.' Most of the rest, left, right and center, are just trying to make money and sell advertising. Not sure where we are headed, but certainly not in the right direction.

frank regnier 6 years, 5 months ago

Wait,,,,,what was the topic? Journalism or why mothers kill their children.

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