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Intersections between Journalistic Documentary and True Crime in the Context of VOD Platforms: The Alcàsser Murders as a Spanish Case Study

Mass Mediated Representations of Crime and Criminality

ISBN: 978-1-80043-759-3, eISBN: 978-1-80043-758-6

Publication date: 28 May 2021


Purpose: This chapter explores the current hybridization between true crime and nonfiction investigative documentaries on Video on Demand (VOD) platforms. It would seem necessary to distinguish true crime productions from long-form journalistic documentaries in order to avoid confusion between different products that do not pursue the same ends, such as audiovisual products with highly emotive and engaging components versus a journalistic approach to the truth about what happened. Methodology/approach: The analysis is based on the specific theory of true crime developed by Punnett, who provides genuine narrative codes (Justice, Subversive, Geographic, Forensic, Vocative, and Folkloric) for true crime to distinguish it from the formal conventions and social objectives of journalistic documentaries. The case study (El crimen de Alcàsser) was selected because of its potential to drive a detailed and in-depth study on one of the most traumatic crimes in the country’s recent history: the kidnapping, rape, torture, and killing of three teenagers in 1992. Findings: Several scholars have identified journalistic elements in true crime productions in the digital context, adopted in an attempt to distance them from the true crime tradition of appealing to primitive instincts. Although it has been perceived also as a renewed formula for journalism to reach a wide audience and mainstream success, it banishes journalism from its origin and goals: to guarantee the citizenship’s right to be truly informed about crime. In this way, journalistic documentaries inspired by real crimes may play a crucial role in a democratic society, while true crime only exploits the empathy of viewers and places them in the active participation of determining the suspect-protagonist’s guilt as a mode of “clickable” entertainment in the digital culture. Research limitations: This is the first in a series of studies within a broader research project on true crime documentaries released on the VOD platforms in Spain. The findings are, in this case, preliminary. The analysis needs additional testing before its utility can be reasonably determined and a theory about true crime made in Spain could be developed. Originality: First, there is no specific research in the field of true crime in Spain, although crime stories already enjoyed a prominent place in Spain’s conventional TV programming. Second, the Punnett analysis model introduces an interesting way to complement existing theoretical references about the connections between true crime and journalism.



Romero-Domínguez, L.R. (2021), "Intersections between Journalistic Documentary and True Crime in the Context of VOD Platforms: The Alcàsser Murders as a Spanish Case Study", Wiest, J.B. (Ed.) Mass Mediated Representations of Crime and Criminality (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 21), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 71-90.



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