Please read the following headlines of a news article:
[A] Global warming Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time
[B] Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time
Would you interpret these headlines differently? How are they different? Is it just a word or is it more than that? In today’s blogpost I will tell you something about framing in news articles.
A threesome of agenda setting, framing and priming
The basic assumption of media effects is that press and media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it. It starts with agenda setting. Agenda setting is basically the ability of news journals to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda. If a news item is covered prominently and often, news readers will perceive the issue as more important. According to Scheufele and Tewksbury, framing is a more refined version of agenda setting. Framing means making aspects of an issue more salient through different modes of presentation leading to a shift in people’s attitude. More specifically, framing constitutes of highlighting some aspects, such as an aggressive word, and excluding other elements, such as the right context. With this, framing tells us how and why to think about an issue. To complete the circle of the three media effects, there is priming. By offering your news readers a prior context – a context that can be used to interpret subsequent information – you can prime their opinions towards the positive or the negative.
Framing and its effects
I want to address the effects of framing more extensively in this blogpost because I think that framing has the largest consequences. It highlights certain aspects of an issue over other aspects resulting in strengthening or weakening pre-existing beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. Tversky and Kahneman demonstrated this with the Asian Disease Problem; in their study a significant amount of people chose the more risky option because it was framed more positively (the gain-frame).
Following Fairhurst and Sarr, there are seven framing techniques:
- Contrast: define something in terms of what is not;
- Metaphor: frame a conceptual idea by use of a comparison;
- Stories: frame an issue in a vivid and memorable way via narrative;
- Tradition: use cultural mores that pervade significance in the mundane;
- Artefact: frame with objects that have intrinsic symbolic value and meaning;
- Slogan, jargon, catchphrase: make use of a catchy phrase to make it more memorable;
- Spin: present a concept in a way that has a value judgement (positive or negative) that might not be obvious immediately.
The news makes extensive usage of framing. Yesterday there was a shooting in San Bernardino, America. Concerning this topic, news reporters can choose to focus on the fourteen victims or they can choose to focus on the shooting itself. How they frame their story can influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviour. Another news report about the same topic mentioned that the shooters potentially had terroristic motivations. Even though this claim has not been proven yet, they published it. As a result, people’s negative attitude about terrorists could increase and it is likely that they will be more terrified of terrorist attacks. On the same line, the study of Cosand reported that scripted news reports involving crime affected the level of fear, anger, and empathy.
Framing: are we doing it conscious or unconscious?
Some say that news reporters frame consciously and others think it is an unconscious process. In my opinion, we are all biased by the information that is presented to us in various ways so we have a frame of reference. Because of this, it could be almost impossible to write something without using a framework. Hence, I think we usually frame unconsciously, but with some activities, such as creating catchy titles (e.g. caught in a frame), it might be conscious.
In the first section I asked you if you would interpret sentence A [Global warming Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time] different compared to sentence B [Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time]. There is a minor variation between them, but I perceive them differently. In my opinion, climate change is a more broad and neutral term whereas global warming elicited more negative associations. So, I might be more happy/relieved to read headline [A]. What is your opinion?
P.S. When was the last time you were ‘guilty’ of framing?