Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Theory into Practice: Framing, the News Media, and Collective Action

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Theory into Practice: Framing, the News Media, and Collective Action

Article excerpt

This essay examines the experience of the Media Research and Action Project (MRAP) in employing frame analysis to assist social movements and community groups in advancing their political goals through the news media. Specifically, it reports the significant lessons drawn from the applied work of MRAP in its thirteen years of existence.

Initiated by social movement scholar William Gamson in 1986, MRAP lends theoretical and practical support to social movement efforts to broaden democratic discourse in the mainstream news media; the broadening of this discourse is essential to the efforts of marginalized groups and communities to promote social change and secure social justice. Within this context, the news media represent critical arenas of social struggle.

Combining the interests and experiences of sociologists and communication scholars, MRAP assists social movement organizations and community groups in framing their messages and arguments in ways that influence news coverage, and subsequently shape public debate. In our applied work, we explore the complex interaction between the frames advanced by the social movement and community groups we assist, the frames advanced by opposing groups and organizations, and the frames employed by journalists in their news stories. Within this interaction, social movements and community groups often work at a considerable disadvantage because of their relative lack of economic and cultural resources. MRAP has had success in assisting these groups in advancing frames that have attracted sympathetic news coverage and influenced public policy.

MRAP and the Concept of Frames

Considerable research has employed the concept of frames to examine news as a political resource (Carragee, 1991; Croteau, Hoynes, & Carragee, 1996; Gamson, 1992; Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Gitlin, 1980; Tuchman, 1978). Frames organize discourse, including news stories, by their patterns of selection, emphasis and exclusion. By framing political issues, social actors define what is and what is not relevant to the issue. In a review of research exploring the use of frames in journalistic discourse, Entman (1993, p. 52) writes that frames "select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text." This concept highlights journalism's role in the production of meanings and values.

In our interventions, we stress that journalistic frames do not develop in a political or cultural vacuum. They are influenced by the frames sponsored by multiple social actors, including corporate and political elites, advocates, and social movements. News stories, then, become a forum for framing contests in which these actors compete in sponsoring their definitions of political issues. The ability of a frame to dominate news discourse depends on multiple complex factors, including its sponsor's economic and cultural resources, its sponsor's knowledge of journalistic practices, and its resonance with broader political values or tendencies in American culture. Given the practices of American journalism and the significance of resources in the successful sponsoring of frames, framing contests favor political and economic elites (Gamson, Croteau, Hoynes, & Sasson, 1992).

Because journalists define many issues and events over time, frames evolve. Particular frames may gain or lose prominence in the news media. In addition, sponsors may re-structure their framing of particular issues given changing political conditions or given the frames advanced by their opponents. Political elites, at times, absorb or co-opt the frames advanced by challengers. Our emphasis on the evolution of framing contests highlights the construction of meaning over time (Gamson, 1992; Ryan, Carragee, & Schwerner, 1998).

MRAP's use of framing differs from others in several ways. We place more emphasis on the sponsorship of frames and on their evolving character. …

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