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The Terrorism News Beat

Professionalism, Profit, and the Press

Subjects: Media Studies, Journalism, Political Science, Political Communication
Paperback : 9780472057306, 240 pages, 10 images, 2 tables, 6 x 9, March 2025
Hardcover : 9780472077304, 240 pages, 10 images, 2 tables, 6 x 9, March 2025
Open Access : 9780472904914, 240 pages, 10 images, 2 tables, 6 x 9, March 2025
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Revealing the journalistic quality of terrorism coverage in U.S. news

Table of contents

Chapter One: A very bad news beat?
Chapter Two: Continuity, Change, and The Professional Media Thesis
Chapter Three: Terrorism beat topics, 1997-2014
Chapter Four: The language of the terrorism beat.
Chapter Five: Overestimating journalists, underestimating audiences.
Chapter Six: Near and Dear: Spatial variation in the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Chapter Seven: Distance and media coverage in five terrorism crises.
Chapter Eight: Conclusions About a Surprisingly Sober News Beat


Critics of terrorism news coverage often describe it as a sensationalized and intimidating area of reporting. However, this characterization offers a misleading guide to the coverage of terrorist threats and attacks, counterterrorism, and community responses to terrorism that appears in U.S. newspapers. Counterterrorism—not terrorist threats or attacks—is the most reported on subject in newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Rather than focusing on accounts of terrorist attacks, militarized counterterrorism, or counterterrorism failures, journalists more often cover counterterrorism successes, criminal justice, and diplomatic or community responses to terrorism. 

The Terrorism News Beat engages thinking about terrorism and the news media from the fields of political science, communication, criminology, economics, and sociology using multimethod research involving more than 2,500 newspaper articles published between 1997 and 2018. Chapters analyze the terrorism news beat’s subject matter, language, and coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Olympic Park bombing, 9/11 attacks, DC Sniper case, and Dallas Police shooting. When it comes to language use, Hoffman finds that rather than giving into the temptation to convey the news in lurid detail, journalists are minimalists. The language used to depict events on the terrorism beat is typically moderate and extreme words like “torture” appear only as necessary. The Terrorism News Beat shows that contrary to claims of sensationalism, the tone of terrorism coverage becomes even more sober during terrorism crises than it is during non-crisis periods and meets journalistic standards for quality.

Aaron M. Hoffman is Professor of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.

The Terrorism News Beat is theoretically and methodologically innovative. The issues that this book is tackling—the way that media affect perceptions of security for the public, how nonstate actors like terrorist groups react to incentives both from other international actors and from the media environment and how the public understands and reacts to risks from terrorism and climate change—are fundamentally important questions for democracies as they face external risks to their population.”

- Shana Kushner Gadarian, Syracuse University