Framing of news has become a lively interdisciplinary research area in recent years. The sprawling growth of this research area has its roots both in the intellectual ferment spurred by the “linguistic turn” of social theories and political practices in the era of mediated politics. Although the extant framing studies vary in precise conceptual definitions and theoretical foci, one can find some general agreements; that is, framing is a process of social actors using symbolic means to structure the social world (Reese 2001).
Conceptualizing News Framing
Among various definitions of framing, the most widely circulated comes from Robert Entman: “Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described. Typically frames diagnose, evaluate, and prescribe . . .” (Entman 1993, 52; italics original). Focusing on the cognitive underpinnings associated with salience, this definition describes how varying salience is accomplished (via selection), where a frame resides (in text), and how such a text produces real political consequences (proving certain problem definition and policy prescription). In essence, frames are templates (ideas and principles) embedded in news texts; they are used to organize, and are also signified by, various symbolic elements (e.g., catchphases, images, metaphors, etc.; Gamson 1988).
While such a definition was offered to place news framing research in a coherent theoretical framework, others point out that news framing is a research program that has benefited from and is currently operating in the interfertilization of multiple paradigms (D’Angelo 2002). This is because framing is a multifaceted phenomenon with social, cultural, and political dimensions; it cannot be completely reduced to the cognitive level. Selecting what to include or emphasize in a news story is often ideologically motivated and politically charged; news text, regardless which frame structures it, is a physical embodiment of an ideology and is embedded with organizational and institutional rules and procedures of news production; and both information selection and problem definition are strategic acts performed by political actors situated in the spatio-temporal configuration of political and economic interests. Because of all these, as Gitlin points out, framing of news is an ideological process. It involves the construction of a discursive representation “about what exists, what happens, and what matters”; framing makes “the world beyond direct experience look natural” (Gitlin 1980, 6 –7).
Framing of news is a joint operation of journalists and various other social actors. These social actors operate as sources that supply journalists with not only information but also the primary definitions and vocabularies concerning an issue or event that is to be represented in news stories. In this collaborative process, journalists play a more subordinate role in defining the reality and their reports often “index” the opinions of political elites. In a pluralistic society, these social actors are not monolithic. Rooted in different interests and playing different roles in democratic politics, they engage in a discursive contestation in the recognition, definition, and labeling of issues, events, and problems. By incorporating both the strategic and discursive aspects of these social actors’ actions, the concept of news framing is at the very center of developing an integrated perspective on public discourse (i.e., its structure and order, its articulation with the enduring values and the political climate of any moment, and its formation as shaped by the promotional or advocacy activities of various social actors, including social movement organizations that aim to promote their agendas through collective action).
We also need to add to Entman’s definition the conceptual meaning of framing in Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979) prospect theory on risky choices. In this theory, framing refers to organizing the presentation of equivalent information in different frames, which lead decision-makers to arrive at different choices through two mechanisms: first, the “gain” and “loss” frames correspond to different nonlinear value functions; second, there is a concave weight function for different levels of probability ranging from 0 to 1. These two mechanisms lead to a risk-averting tendency under the condition of certain gain and a risk-seeking tendency under the condition of uncertain loss in individuals’ decision-making. The theory makes it clear that, independent of what information is included, how such information is presented invokes a particular template through which the information is experienced. Framing, therefore, refers to the structuring of symbolic representation that sets in motion a distinct “train of thoughts” in individuals’ reasoning (Price et al. 1997) and their ways of discussing an issue.
These explications of the framing concept make it clear that framing is a process at the intersection between political discourse and psychological effects. Therefore, the research on framing of news recognizes the “double lives” of frames and explores the connection between the two. As interpretive structures, frames are congealed in political or media discourse; as cognitive structures, they are part of individuals’ mental representations.
News Framing Research
News framing research to date can be roughly grouped into two broad categories: (1) identifying frames and framing devices in news, and (2) examining the effects of news framing. The former involves mostly some forms of content or textual analysis of news texts, whereas the latter often involves experiments, either taking place in laboratories or embedded in surveys. This body of literature attests to both the heuristic value and theoretical imprecision of the framing concept.
In the first category, researchers have analyzed news texts, often in connection with analyses of other discourses, to address a host of theoretical issues. Research has examined how an issue is framed in the news, how the framing of an issue in the media has evolved over time, the ways in which the representations of an issue are connected across the private and public arenas in a society, how the news media situate other political actors’ frames of an issue in news narratives, how journalistic news values are manifested as organizing templates across media outlets or platforms, issues or events, and so on.
In the second category, researchers have not only examined a range of effects manifested as outcomes among individuals who are exposed to news frames but also proposed various accounts of the cognitive mechanisms involved. The effects range from causal attributions; internal consistency of an individual’s belief system; political opinions (evaluations and preferences) on politicians, policies, and political process; ways of talking about politics and political issues; likelihood and levels of participating in civic as well as political lives; and so on. The following theoretical accounts have been proposed. First, framing affects individuals’ outcomes by changing relative degrees of salience among different aspects of an issue or different considerations. Second, framing effects occur through the mediation of news frames reconfiguring the importance ranking of various principles from which individuals’ judgments, evaluations, and inferences are derived. Third, framing involves reconfiguring the semantic associations among the relevant concepts stored in one’s memory (e.g., increasing their proximity and strengthening their associative paths). And fourth, framing effects occurs through the application of the frame-related concepts stored in one’s long-term memory. All these ideas are based on the associative network model of memory and point to transitory shifts in accessibility, applicability, prominence, and/or proximity among the concepts in such a network (Higgins 1996), presumably generated by news frames. Despite the mushrooming empirical studies on news framing, there has been little consensus on how to differentiate various frames and which frame classification system to use in various research settings. Six different systems of frame classification can be identified in the research literature: gain vs loss frames (sometimes simplistically referred to as positive vs negative frames), drawn from the prospect theory; thematic vs episodic frames in television news on their effects on voters’ responsibility attributions (Iyengar 1991), and its more substantive extension, individual vs societal frames, based on the level of narrative foci (Shah et al. 2004); strategy vs issue frames in media coverage of election campaigns and policy debates; value frames (i.e., some enduring values functioning as “central organizing ideas” in news texts), drawn from the works of Gamson and developed further by others; news values such as human interest, conflict, and consequences functioning as frames (e.g., Price et al. 1997); and mental templates based on familiar social institutions being used metaphorically in representing unfamiliar or more complex issues (Schlesinger & Lau 2000).
Because researchers have differentiated frames in the context of addressing their own research questions, it is not clear how these systems can be integrated. Several typologies of different frames have been proposed for the purpose of studying effects (e.g., Druckman 2002; Levin et al. 1998). But they have not been useful for studying news content and its production. How to map news texts in connection with other types of public discourse remains a major theoretical and methodological challenge in news framing research. Pan and Kosicki (1993) differentiated the structural dimensions of news discourse – syntactical, script, thematic, and rhetorical structures – providing some heuristic suggestions.
News Framing And Democratic Politics
News framing has become a key construct in understanding democratic politics, based on the recognition that political actors have become increasingly sophisticated in their uses of language and other means of signification. As a result, democratic politics increasingly involves contestations in the realm of representation, and journalists are more frequent targets of strategic framing by their sources. As a theoretical construct, news framing connects to the traditional formulations about news production and information control. But it goes beyond these confines by situating the analysis of news in the context of discursive formation of issues, policies, opinions, and engagement.
News framing also clearly relates to media effects in the public opinion process – e.g., agenda-setting and priming – and news as a form of knowledge or window to the world. But it cultivates a much more expansive conceptual space to situate effects as micro constituents of democratic politics and to go beyond the informational effects of news. Further, the framing construct also raises questions about the practices of democratic citizenship, both in terms of citizen competence, interactivity between elite and the mass public’s discourses about complex public issues, and the participatory potentials of individual citizens in policy deliberation and collective action.
- D’Angelo, P. (2002). News framing as a multiparadigmatic research program: A response to Entman. Journal of Communication, 52, 870 – 888.
- Druckman, J. N. (2002). The implications of framing effects for citizen competence. Political Behavior, 23, 225 –256.
- Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43, 51–58.
- Gamson, W. A. (1988). A constructionist approach to mass media and public opinion. Symbolic Interaction, 11, 161–174.
- Gitlin, T. (1980). The whole world is watching: Mass media in the making and unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Higgins, E. T. (1996). Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. New York: Guilford, pp. 133 –168.
- Iyengar, S. (1991). Is anyone responsible? How television frames political issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decisions under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263 –291.
- Levin, I. P., Schneider, S. L., & Gaeth, G. J. (1998). All frames are not created equal: A typology and critical analysis of framing effects. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 76, 149 –188.
- Pan, Z., & Kosicki, G. M. (1993). Framing analysis: An approach to news discourse. Political Communication, 10, 55 –75.
- Price, V., Tewksbury, D., & Powers, E. (1997). Switching trains of thought: The impact of news frames on readers’ cognitive responses. Communication Research, 24, 481–506.
- Reese, S. D. (2001). Prologue – Framing public life: A bridging model for media research. In S. D. Reese, O. H. Gandy, Jr., & A. Grant (eds.) (2001). Framing public life: Perspectives on media and our understanding of the social world. Hillsdale, NJ: LEA, pp. 7–31.
- Schlesinger, M., & Lau, R. R. (2000). The meaning and measure of policy metaphors. American Political Science Review, 94, 611– 626.
- Shah, D. V., Kwak, N., Schmierbach, M., & Zubric, J. (2004). The interplay of news frames on cognitive complexity. Human Communication Research, 30, 102 –120.