Building Blogs: A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of the Distribution of Frames on the 2004 Presidential Candidate Web Sites

Article excerpt

This study investigates frames used by candidate Web sites in the 2004 presidential election. The analysis focuses on official blog content posted by the George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry Web sites. Content analysis was used to record time, space, tone, and topic attributes used in the blog text during the sixty-four days prior to the election. A comprehensive analysis is offered for the distribution of framing content and mechanisms employed for a total of 1,309 blog postings. The findings indicate notable trends as well as significant differences between candidates and their use of frames.

The 2004 presidential election campaign involved the interplay of a variety of issues. This election also marked an increase in online communication tactics. Each candidate maintained a Web site featuring campaign information as well as an "official blog" in an effort to keep voters up to date on pertinent topics. Blog content was managed by campaign staff members (sometimes allowing responses, often displaying selected posts or news stories, etc.), providing a glimpse into each candidate's attempt to put his frame on campaign information.

The theoretical premise for framing analysis rests in both sociological and psychological research,1 but the manner of constructing communication text with selective focus is a topic of interest to political communication scholars as well. As Parmalee2 notes, framing research can be enriched by broadening the analysis of frames to include texts offered to consumers by political candidates. Political communication text offers great interest because of the often deliberate construction of information for consumers. The first step toward developing an assessment of framing effects is to identify patterns in communication texts that employ framing techniques. This may allow for a more consistent examination of framing categories leading to replicable analyses of framing tactics.

It is the purpose of this study to investigate the construction of frames used by candidates in the 2004 presidential election. This research proposes the use of a four-dimensional methodological approach. The analysis of framing attributes includes time, space, tone, and topic dimensions, as well as the framing mechanisms used to display content in candidate blogs for the sixty-four days prior to the election.

Literature Review

As framing research has developed, differing perspectives have emerged in the interpretation of the concept. Many researchers define framing according to the construction of communication texts3 while others focus on how individuals perceive, organize, and interpret information.4 For the purpose of this analysis, framing will be defined as an organizing principle by which structure is applied to reality through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration.5 The current study will specifically focus on framing used in the construction of information in communication texts.

Framing in Political Discourse. Framing analysis is especially useful when investigating political issues. The political arena is saturated with those attempting to frame issues in their favor. As Schattschneider6 notes, those determining the definition of political alternatives allocate power. This power can be demonstrated in the choice of attributes used to frame political issues. McCombs and Ghanem7 describe attributes as the qualities and characteristics that define an object. Analyses of these attributes offer insight as patterns emerge in the frames offered in political discourse.

A variety of categories has surfaced as scholars attempt to identify journalistic framing in political media coverage. Iyengar and Simon8 discuss the media's use of both episodic and thematic frames to structure television news coverage of the Gulf Crisis. The distinction focused on frames that were specific versus those framing issues in a more general context. Capella and Jamieson9 identified strategy frames as those emphasizing the political game of winning and losing. …