In 1998 an interesting research was conducted on the topic Framing the News. Among variety of interesting facts regarding journalism, authors identified four main elements on how journalists present the news. Those elements were: 1) topic – what story topics were put on the first page, 2) trigger – what triggered to cover this specific story and who was responsible for this event or issue to emerge, 3) frame – what narrative type or approach was used while composing a story, finally, 4) underlying message – identifying any underlying social and folkloric messages presented in the story (obviously and not). It is clear, that framing plays a big role when it comes to shapingthe story. It influences audience in terms of understand and evaluating the issue, choosing the positive or negative attitude towards that matter. Therefore, it is a powerful tool. Probably the first thought that comes into our heads now – how do we actually define framing? Is it the approach journalists choose for their story? Or is it type of narrative they lead? It is said, that framing theory suggests that how something is presented (the “frame”) influences the choices people make. Framing can lead to audience to accept one meaning or side of the story over another. Framing often consist of these elements: choosing the approach or even side towards the presented story following the the title (it represents the whole story). Writing style, visual materials and quotes play a big role as well. Finally, source and chosen information (some information might not be presented in order to direct reader) has a crucial influence here. Fairhurst and Sarr described following framing techniques that can help journalists to become familiar with the use of this tool:
* Metaphor. To give an idea or issue a new meaning by comparing it to something else.
* Stories (like myths and legends). To frame a subject by anecdote in a striking and memorable way.
* Traditions (like rites, rituals and ceremonies). To pattern, define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.
* Slogans, jargon and catchphrases. To frame a subject in a memorable, known fashion.
* Artifacts. To illuminate corporate values through physical remaining (in case language is not capable to do it) .
* Contrast. To describe a subject in terms of what it is not.
* Spin. To talk about a concept while giving it a positive or negative connotation.
These points can give some inspiration how to frame. Framing techniques can help to distinguish important information from unimportant. This way journalists can help to achieve better understanding for audience and lead to a certain path of interpretation. It is noticeable that these techniques can be modified and adjusted to different story. There should be a specific approach or even side taken into account as framing directs the story or engages the audience one way or another. Keeping in my mind the power of social media these days, new techniques can be added to the list regarding this matter. I guess there is no limit for emerging techniques which are not yet written down. Personally, I think visual material plays a big role when it comes to framing as, firstly, the reader notices it as soon as the page is presented in front of him/her. Secondly, it gives a specific connotation of the issue just before reading the text which can influence how the reader will perceive the content.
Case of 9/11 magazine covers
The following case is a good example of how 3 elements: title, picture and additional headers of the magazine, can influence and direct audience to follow either the positive or the negative side of the matter. Taking into account, that 9/11 accident is a sensitive topic to most of people, these two magazines – People and Newsweek create two different feelings towards it. While visualising both covers of these magazines we can sense what kind of connotation it brings even before reading the main title and other headers of it. People magazine’s cover uses a fragile looking Caucasian girl, where she hold a picture of her family member (we can assume that even before reading the title). It immediately creates a compassion feeling towards her. On the other hand, Newsweek magazine’s cover gives as an opposite feeling towards the boy. He looks tough, maybe even aggressive. It is important to highlight the background as the girl is standing in a quite neutral surrounding and the boy can be identified standing in the street. These two covers obviously create positive and negative connotations and the following titles – confirms it. “The Children of 9/11” and “The Chilrean of Bin Laden” supports the visual material as it makes the influence stronger. I hardly believe people would get a negative effect looking at the girl and reading the title or vice-versus with the second cover. Following sentences or headers supports the main title. Newsweek cover even adds deeper level of negativity towards this matter with headlines like “The Mutating Extremist Threat” or “New Tools to Fight Terror” as it emphasizes and stresses the importance of terrorism, reminding it to the audience (People magazine has different approach of a sensitive girl with phrases like “triumphed over tragedy” where the main point goes to recovery over the tragedy). These two covers are highly different and it can even create discussions regarding people used on the covers (e.g. racism question). Try to imagine how it will look if they would have switched these two youngsters… We can already sense, it probably wouldn’t work as those two visuals fits the titles perfectly. We can agree that both covers are quite memorable and hard to forget.
In summary, we can understand that framing plays a big role in journalism. The question whether it is good or bad, necessary or redundant, every journalist should ask himself before shaping the story. Of course, due to framing, journalist can position a story covered with variety of connotations, sometimes it my be needed when audience is engaged to act for a better cause. Personally, I also believe framing is a wide topic to discuss, especially when it comes to its’ positive and negative effects. This topic can be discussed more than in a one blog post, taking into account different elements of it such as motivation, effect, value of it, visuals and etc. But for now, we can try to work our way with these framing techniques which help to understand how it actually works, how to use this tool in shaping our story or trying to influence the audience if we feel it is necessary.
Framing the News. The Triggers, Frames, and Messages in Newspaper Coverage. PEW Research Center’s Journalism Project Staff, 1998. Retrieved from here.
Frames, Framing and Reframing, 2013. Sanda Kaufman, Michael Elliott, Deborah Shmueli. Retrieved from here.
Framing, Agenda Settting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models, 2006. Dietram A. Schuefele & David Tweksbury. Journal of Communication, p. 9 – 20.
Framing theory. School of Journalism and Communication. Retrieved from here.
Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing and Priming, 2007. David H. Weaver. Journal of Communication, p. 142-147.