The dark, ominous alleyways of London’s East End divulge a very gruesome history of women “ripped up like [pigs] in a market” (Grose). The area, once littered with the torn up remains of brutally murdered prostitutes, looms over the city as symbol for the story of one of the most notorious serial killers: Jack the Ripper. The case enthralls and captivates people’s minds even today, over 100 years later (BBC). This begs the question of how serial killers become part of history, an answer found in extensive media coverage. Time Magazine describes the phenomena Jack the Ripper left behind as a “rich legacy” and a “multi-million dollar industry,” eerily analogous to today’s coverage of serial killings (Grose). Jack the Ripper’s case provides an early example of the issues that arose with the advent of the serial killer—issues that still exist. The press has a unique role to play in serial killer investigations, but the line between helping and hurting society is often blurred. While the press has a responsibility to inform society of such serial killings in order to keep them informed and safe, publishing killer communiqués crosses ethical boundaries concerning the investigations and society.
Journalism has a particularly interesting influence on crime and the justice system, which first began in the early to mid 1800’s (Feldstein). Urbanization had a big impact on the development of journalism, as it allowed for the wide distribution of newspapers. However, the penny press essentially created the ethical issues concerning serial killers and media contact (Feldstein). The penny press first started in 1833 with Day’s launch of The New York Sun. Because the newspaper cost one cent instead of six, it targeted an entirely different audience, the common citizen (Penny Press). This shift in audience formed a new style of reporting, yellow journalism or sensationalism, that focused on “sensational coverage of crime” (Feldstein). Criminal reporting developed drastically through yellow journalism because the tabloid-style reporting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “[played] up violence, murder, and immortality” (Tabloid). This created the perfect environment for the birth and rise of reporting on serial killers.
According the FBI, even though serial killing is not a new phenomenon and dates back to ancient times, the Jack the Ripper case sparked an unusual interest in the crime that had not previously existed (Serial Murder). Serial killings only account for one percent of crimes, but they gain a lot of publicity through “Hollywood productions” and sensational news stories that aim to heighten the interest of the reader (Serial Murder). Three serial cases, dating from Jack the Ripper to the present, illustrate the way the publication of serial communiqués negatively affects different aspects of each criminal investigation, rendering the action unethical.
Jack the Ripper was the perhaps the first serial killer to directly communicate with...