Caught in a frame

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?



5 gedachtes over “Caught in a frame

  1. I agree with you on that framing can be both unconscious and conscious. I think that we always frame unconscious, because it is almost impossible to be completely objective about a subject. This is already displayed in a certain choice of words, even if you do not literally present your own opinion. Than, it is of course also possible to frame on purpose, with making certain decisions about the way you present it. Besides that, people also have their own frame from which they perceive information, which also can have an influence on the way you perceive it. Therefore, I think that you could try to collect the information from different perspectives, in order to be able to form your own opinion.


  2. Thank you for your nice blogpost genya. I think people frame unconsiously 80 percent of the time. We are often not aware that we frame, or are being framed. As people can’t be 100% objective I think framing is impossible and we should accept that. Unfortunately people don’t always use framing for doing good.


  3. Hello Genya! Interesting approach; I cannot but agree with your points. However I would prefer that you analyzed more the real examples in accordance to the relevant theory instead of staying so much on the existent theories. Just an idea for your last blog! Carry on the good job!


  4. I don’t think everbody conscious frames, but i do think the most jorunalists does. It was interesting to read about the seven framing techniques from Fairhurst and Sarr, because some things on the list I did not even knew that that was framing. After reading that list i’m really convinced that (almost) every news article consist of framing, but I don’t think that this will ever change so we just have to accept it.


  5. Reacting on this:

    “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.”

    The conscious framing of events is always being condemned. But everybody does it, one way or another, to get things done. With so many news organizations doing it, this results in having the choice in what journalist or news organization to follow. And for me personally this also cancels out the negative sphere around conscious framing. Let it happen, and be smart enough to look at from the multiple views that are offered to us daily. As Tony Montana said in the movie ‘Scarface’: “You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.”. Having extreme frames is helping us to find a frame in between also.


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