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Article

Christian von Sikorski and Jörg Matthes

As one of the most popular concepts in current research on journalism and mass communication, framing refers to the idea that actors like strategic communicators, journalists, but also audience members select some aspects of a particular issue and make them salient while other aspects are ignored. Frames refer to a specific presentation of issues or events and therefore construct reality in a meaningful but selective way. They do so by suggesting a problem definition, causal interpretation, treatment recommendation, and/or moral evaluation on a given issue, favoring a specific political leaning and course of action. More specifically, strategic communicators suggest frames that compete for public and media attention, and journalists adopt and alter these frames, which ultimately affects audience members’ individual level frames. Framing as a concept thus explains the power to construct and alter meaning. As a unifying concept, framing has the potential to bridge several areas of communication research and explain the competition of strategic positions on the side of communicators, journalists, and audience members. However, the concept is also plagued by conceptual and operational fuzziness, resulting in arbitrary and incompatible uses of the term. This limits the relevance of the framing concept to theory-driven journalism studies.

Article

Many health-related message variations have been described as variations in the framing of the message. What different applications of the term message framing have in common is that, in each case, something gets described in different ways (with researchers having a special interest in the consequences of these different descriptions). But what that “thing” is and how the descriptions of it differ vary across different uses of the term framing. In research on health-related messages, at least three different variations have been described using “framing” as a label. One concerns variation in consequence-based arguments in persuasive messages. In this kind of framing, what varies is the description of the antecedent or consequent in arguments designed to persuade people to adopt some course of action. For example, the antecedent in an argument designed to encourage sunscreen use might be expressed as “if you wear sunscreen” or “if you don’t wear sunscreen,” and the consequent of such arguments might emphasize sunburns or skin cancer. A second concerns variation in the description of some news event, public policy issue, or health subject. For example, news media might describe obesity as controllable or as something over which one has limited control. A third concerns variation in the description of an attribute of a course of action. For example, a surgical procedure might be described as having a “90% success rate” or a “10% failure rate.”

Article

Who filters through information and determines what information is shared with media audiences? Who filters through information and determines what information will not be shared with media audiences? Ultimately, who controls the flow of information in the media? At times commentary pertaining to media content references media as an omnipotent individual entity selecting the content transmitted to the public, reminiscent of a Wizard of Oz manner of the all-powerful being behind the curtain. Overlooked in this perception is the reality that in mass media, there are various individuals in positions of power making decisions about the information accessed by audiences of various forms of media. These individuals are considered gatekeepers: wherein the media functions as a gate permitting some matters to be publicized and included into the public discourse while restricting other matters from making it to the public conscience. Media gatekeepers (i.e., journalists, editors) possess the power to control the gate by determining the content delivered to audiences, opening and closing the gate of information. Gatekeepers wield power over those on the other side of the gate, those seeking to be informed (audiences), as well as those seeking to inform (politics, activists, academics, etc.). The earliest intellectual explanation of gatekeeping is traced to Kurt Lewin, describing gatekeeping as a means to analyze real-world problems and observing the effects of cultural values and subjective attitudes on those problems like the distribution of food in Lewins’s seminal study, and later modified by David Manning White to examine the dissemination of information via media. In an ideal situation, the gatekeepers would be taking on the challenge of weighing the evidence of importance in social problems when selecting among the options of content and information to exhibit. Yet, decisions concerning content selection are not void of subjective viewpoints and encompass values, beliefs, and ideals of gatekeepers. The subjective attitudes of gatekeepers influence their perspective of what qualifies as newsworthy information. Hence, those in the position to determine the content transmitted through media exercise the power to shape social reality for media audiences. In the evolution of media gatekeeping theory three models have resulted from the scholarship: (1) examination of the one-way flow of information passing through a series of gates before reaching audiences, (2) the process of newsroom personnel interacting with people outside of the newsroom, and (3) the direct communication of private citizens and public officials. In traditional media and newer forms of social media, gatekeeping examination revolves around analysis of these media organizations’ news routines and narratives. Gatekeeping analysis observes human behavior and motives in order to make conceptualizations about the social world.

Article

Jesper Strömbäck and Adam Shehata

Political journalism constitutes one of the most prominent domains of journalism, and is essential for the functioning of democracy. Ideally, political journalism should function as an information provider, watchdog, and forum for political discussions, thereby helping citizens understand political matters and help prevent abuses of power. The extent to which it does is, however, debated. Apart from normative ideals, political journalism is shaped by factors at several levels of analysis, including the system level, the media organizational level, and the individual level. Not least important for political journalism is the close, interdependent, and contentious relationship with political actors, shaping both the processes and the content of political journalism. In terms of content, four key concepts in research on political journalism in Western democratic systems are the framing of politics as a strategic game, interpretive versus straight news, conflict framing and media negativity, and political or partisan bias. A review of research related to these four concepts suggests that political journalism has a strong tendency to frame politics as a strategic game rather than as issues, particularly during election campaigns; that interpretive journalism has become more common; that political journalism has a penchant for conflict framing and media negativity; and that there is only limited evidence that political journalism is influenced by political or partisan bias. Significantly more important than political or partisan bias are different structural and situational biases. In all these and other respects, there are important differences across countries and media systems, which follows from the notion that political journalism is always influenced by the media systems in which it is produced and consumed.

Article

Ilona Fridman and E. Tory Higgins

Regulatory Focus Theory differentiates between two motivational orientations: promotion and prevention. Promotion-oriented individuals focus on advancements, growth, and making progress toward their hopes and aspirations, whereas prevention-oriented people are more concerned about safety, security, and fulfilling their responsibilities. Promotion-oriented individuals tend to focus on moving toward a better state ensuring gains and improvements. In contrast, prevention-oriented people tend to focus on ensuring against making mistakes and maintaining a current satisfactory state rather than moving to something worse. When individuals pursue desired ends using their preferred means (ensuring gains for promotion, and ensuring against losses for prevention), they experience regulatory fit, which makes them “feel right” about what they are doing. Regulatory fit is associated with strengthening engagement and intensifying evaluative judgments. The advantages of regulatory fit could be utilized in communications to motivate individuals’ healthy behavior. The messages that encourage healthy behavior could be framed in a way that fits recipients’ personal goal orientations. For instance, to increase motivation among promotion-oriented people for getting vaccinations, the message might state, “A flu vaccine helps you to continue achieving your goals even during a flu season.” This message emphasizes advancements and gains that fit a promotion orientation. To increase motivation among prevention-oriented people to choose healthy options, the messages could instead highlight avoiding losses: “A flu vaccine helps you avoid strength-sapping illness during a flu season.” Past studies on health communications have demonstrated that regulatory fit tends to facilitate participants’ willingness to follow the message and engage in healthy behavior. Could regulatory non-fit messages also work? When individuals pursue desired ends using non-preferred means—ensure gains for prevention-oriented individuals or ensure against losses for promotion-oriented individuals—they experience regulatory non-fit. Non-fit makes them “feel wrong” about what they are doing. Regulatory non-fit is associated with weakening engagement and de-intensifying evaluative judgments. How might a non-fit health message be helpful? What if individuals’ initial attitudes toward a healthy option were negative, even anxiety producing, despite that option serving their interests better than alternative options? It would be better if the individuals could thoughtfully consider the potential benefits of the option without their negative feelings rejecting it. For a thoughtful decision to be made, the intensity of the initial negative feelings could be decreased. A regulatory non-fit message, in this case, could be an effective tool. By making people “feel wrong” about their initial reaction, it could weaken their engagement and de-intensify the negative reactions, for example, reduce anxiety about the option. Thus, the regulatory non-fit message could help an individual to reconsider potential advantages of the initially disliked option. While the ways in which Regulatory Focus and Regulatory Fit theories can be applied to improve health communications are known, important questions remain. For example, are there circumstances when fit or non-fit messages could make people feel that their decision-making autonomy is being threatened? Can fit or non-fit messages create resistance? If so, how can this be avoided? Both fit and non-fit messages are persuasive techniques. Is there a downside to these techniques? What can be done to ensure that these persuasive techniques are not just effective but are also ethical?

Article

Tim Klein, Elisabeth Fondren, and Leonard M. Apcar

Throughout the ages, the editor’s primary role has been to connect writers with readers by deciding what to publish. In modern scholarship, this is known as gatekeeping. The stories an editor allows through the metaphorical “gate” can influence what readers find important—what scholars call agenda setting. But editors not only influence which stories are told; they also shape how stories are told, through word choice, story arrangement, selection of examples, photos, and the all-important headline; this is known as framing. Historians and biographers have written a good deal about individual editors—their publications, their editorial instincts, their altercations with powerful politicians, and their pursuit of truth, entertainment, profit, and influence. But there has been less focus on the broader changes that have impacted the work of editors as the media ecosystem has shifted. Cultural and social changes have created new demands on editors, who have had to adjust to stay in sync with audiences’ tastes and expectations. Technological invention—and the disruption of old economic models—have forced editors to adapt to new mediums of mass communication that serve new audiences and new financial realities. In short, broader economic, political, technological, and social changes have all influenced what type of editing has flourished and what practices drifted into the past. The Internet has posed an existential threat to editors as gatekeepers. Countless new gates that connect readers and writers have been thrown open, some with little to no editorial oversight. This is far from the first time editors have been forced to adapt to change—the history of editing has been a story of innovation in a continuing quest to find new ways to connect readers and writers. Today, despite the decline in gatekeeping power, professional editing still has an essential role—to curate quality out of the multitude of online voices and uphold a rigor for accuracy and truthfulness that can be easily overlooked on social media and non-professional news sites. Whether it is approving (or rejecting) a topic of investigation, copy-editing prose, fact-checking a story, arranging the home page of a website, managing a newsroom, or deciding which journalist to hire, editors play an integral role in shaping the information that is shared with audiences.

Article

Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison

Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Patrick Lee Plaisance

News workers—writers, editors, videographers, bloggers, photographers, designers—regularly confront questions of potential harms and conflicting values in the course of their work, and the field of journalism ethics concerns itself with standards of behavior and the quality of justifications used to defend controversial journalistic decisions. While journalism ethics, as with the philosophy of ethics in general, is less concerned with pronouncements of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain acts, it relies on longstanding notions of the public-service mission of journalism. However, informing the public and serving a “watchdog” function regularly require journalists to negotiate questions of privacy, autonomy, community engagement, and the potentially damaging consequences of providing information that individuals and governments would rather withhold. As news organizations continue to search for successful business models to support journalistic work, ethics questions over conflicts of interest and content transparency (e.g., native advertising) have gained prominence. Media technology platforms that have served to democratize and decentralize the dissemination of news have underscored the debate about who, or what type of content, should be subjected to journalism ethics standards. Media ethics scholars, most of whom are from Western democracies, also are struggling to articulate the features of a “global” journalism ethics framework that emphasizes broad internationalist ideals yet accommodates cultural pluralism. This is particularly challenging given that the very idea of “press freedom” remains an alien one in many countries of the world, and the notion is explicitly included in the constitutions of only a few of the world’s democratic societies. The global trend toward recognizing and promoting press freedom is clear, but it is occurring at different rates in different countries. Other work in the field explores the factors on the individual, organizational, and societal levels that help or hinder journalists seeking to ensure that their work is defined by widely accepted virtues and ethical principles.

Article

Sebastián Valenzuela

People use the news media to learn about the world beyond their family, neighborhood, and workplace. As news consumers, we depend on what television, social media, websites, radio stations, and newspapers decide to inform us about. This is because all news media, whether through journalists or digital algorithms, select, process, and filter information to their users. Over time, the aspects that are prominent in the news media usually become prominent in public opinion. The ability of journalists to influence which issues, aspects of these issues, and persons related to these issues, are perceived as the most salient has come to be called the agenda-setting effect of journalism. First described by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in a seminal study conducted during the 1968 elections in the United States, agenda-setting theory has expanded to include several other aspects beyond the transfer of salience of issues from the media agenda to the public agenda. These aspects include: the influence of journalism on the attributes of issues and people that make news; the networks between the different elements in the media and public agendas; the determinants of the news media agenda; the psychological mechanisms that regulate agenda-setting effects; and the consequences of agenda setting on both citizens’ and policymakers’ attitudes and behaviors. As one of the most comprehensive and international theories of journalism studies available, agenda setting continues to evolve in the expanding digital media landscape.

Article

Popular media are a source of information, a powerful socializing agent, and generate sociopolitical and sociocultural meanings that impinge on health promotion and/or disease prevention efforts and individual lived experiences. Thus, motivated by the goal of improving individual and social health, multidisciplinary scholars attend to the implications of entertainment and news media with regard to a range of topics such as individual health threats related to prevention, health conditions and illnesses, patient–provider interactions and expectations, public health issues related to crisis management and health recommendations, and public policy. Scholarship in this line of research may approach the study of popular media guided by the social scientific tradition of media effects theory to explain and predict response or by critical theory to consider ideological implications and employ different methodologies to describe and evaluate the images of health and health-related matters to which people are being exposed or that focus on media representations or audience (both individual and societal) response.

Article

Metaphor equates two concepts or domains of concepts in an A is B form, such that a comparison is implied between the two parts leading to a transfer of features typically associated with B (called source) to A (called target). Metaphor is evident in written, spoken, gestural, and pictorial modalities. It is also present as latent patterns of thought in the form of conceptual mappings between domains of experience called conceptual metaphor. Metaphor is found commonly in a variety of health and risk communication contexts, including public discourse, public understanding and perceptions, medical encounters, and clinical assessment. Often metaphor use is beneficial to achieving desired message effects; however, sometimes its use in a message can lead to unintended undesirable effects. There is a general consensus, although not complete agreement, that metaphors in messages are processed through engagement with corresponding conceptual mappings. This matching process can be taken as a general principle for design of metaphor-based health and risk messages.