The construction of the Central Park Jogger Story: Racial consciousness in America at the turn of the 21st century

Natalie Patricia Byfield, Fordham University


This study finds that the subject-area "desk" in media organizations that directs the coverage of the larger world, functions in a privileged space to facilitate communication with other privileged zones in the larger society. The information from these external privileged zones is permeated with messages about power and stratification around issues of class, race, and gender in the larger society. Media select the language with which to distill these messages that we use to construct our world. The study also finds that in the language used by the media to express the police interpretation of events on the night the Central Park jogger was attacked, race was paramount. In the case of the attack on the jogger, the police—through their public relations system—interpreted the events as follows: it was a gang-rape of a white, female investment banker by a group of six African-American and Latino teenagers. "Wilding"—the racial term describing a new form of urban terror—originated and was disseminated by newspaper writers about the jogger incident. Six African-American and Latino teens were incarcerated with some serving as many as 10 years in jail. The initial suspects were later exonerated and the charges withdrawn when the real perpetrator of the crime was discovered and confessed. This is a study of the newspaper coverage of the Central Park Jogger Story (CPJS) that emanated from the so-called "wilding" incident. It is a content analysis of a sample of 251 newspaper articles from two New York City newspapers. The study spans a 14-year period starting with the initial incident and ending when the convictions were vacated. It assesses the media's reliance on sources using frequencies and examines the language of the coverage for racial content using an associational model. Language that is associated with social constructs in our society, like race, class, gender, age, victimhood, and violence are measured for their frequency of use. Additionally, the relationship between the language that represents race and other social constructs is examined.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Byfield, Natalie Patricia, "The construction of the Central Park Jogger Story: Racial consciousness in America at the turn of the 21st century" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3301432.