Spatial Proximity to the U.S.-Mexico Border and Newspaper Coverage of Immigration Issues

By Branton, Regina P.; Dunaway, Johanna | Political Research Quarterly, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Spatial Proximity to the U.S.-Mexico Border and Newspaper Coverage of Immigration Issues


Branton, Regina P., Dunaway, Johanna, Political Research Quarterly


This article examines how geographic proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border influences newspaper coverage of immigration issues. The authors investigate two questions: Do media organizations spatially proximate to the border offer more frequent coverage of Latino immigration than media organizations farther removed from the border? Do media organizations spatially proximate to the border offer more frequent coverage of the negative aspects of immigration than media organizations farther removed from the border? We find that news organizations closer to the border generate a higher volume of articles about Latino immigration, articles featuring the negative aspects of immigration, and articles regarding illegal immigration.

Keywords: immigration; news; media coverage; institutional structure; spatial context

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

On August 12, 2005, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency in four counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, claiming that the region "has been devastated by the ravages of terror and human smuggling, drug smuggling, kidnapping, murder, the destruction of property, and the death of livestock.'" The following Monday, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano followed suit. Both governors described the declaration of a state of emergency as a desperate attempt to get the attention of the federal gov- ernment, and to place immigration at the top of the national policy agenda. In June of 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger publicly demanded Congressional action on the issue of illegal immigra- tion. While immigration and other border-related issues have been of major concern to border communities for some time, until recently, they had yet to gain the amount of national attention needed to stimulate action on the part of the federal government (Dunaway, Abrajano, and Branton 2007).2 We suggest that this is due, at least in part, to the fact that local media outlets close to the U.S.-Mexico border provide more regular coverage of immigration and other border issues than their geographically distant counterparts. Furthermore, we speculate that the increased salience of these mat- ters close to the border creates a heightened sensitivity to border concerns among citizens, who in turn put pressure on local and state officials to take action. As a result, the geographic concentration in media coverage exacerbates the disconnection between local and national policy agendas with regard to these issues.

In this article, we attempt to address the lack of attention scholars have given to the relationship between geographic context and media coverage of political issues. We focus specifically on the policy area of immigration, and examine how geographic proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border influences media attention to these issues. Building on a spatialeconomic explanation of news, we investigate two questions: (1) Do media organizations spatially proximate to the border offer more frequent coverage of the Latino immigration than media organizations farther removed from the border? (2) Do media organizations spatially proximate to the border offer more frequent coverage of the negative aspects of immigration than media organizations farther removed from the border? To address these questions, we examine the volume and nature of media coverage of immigration as a function of geographic spatial proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Agenda Setting and Issue Attributes

The literature regarding the impact of the media illustrates the effect media coverage can have on political attitudes (Iyengar, Peters, and Kinder 1982; Baumgartner and Jones 1995; Zaller 1992; Kahn and Kenney 2002; Valentino, Hutchings, and White 2002).3 Agenda-setting theory describes the process by which the news media, by giving more salience to certain events and issues over others, influences the public's perception about which issues are most important.4 Because of increased media attention, the public believes the issues receiving the majority of the coverage to be most important (McCombs and Shaw 1972; Baumgartner and Jones 1995; Zaller 1992). …

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