Pre-established ideas shape journalists’ news selection and framing practices

Picture: untitled by Rolands Zilvinskis, license Unsplash

The article “Maintenance of News Frames: How US, British and Russian News Made Sense of Unfolding Events in the Syrian Chemical Weapons Crisis” by Christian Baden of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Katsiaryna Stalpouskaya of LMU Munich compares framing of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis in newspapers from three countries. 

The study defines frames according to Entman’s, as semantic structures that define the issues and further builds upon it. According to the authors, dominant frames exist either due to strategic reasons, e.g. they are part of deliberate strategic narrative by a political elite, or due to cultural path-dependency.

Dominant frames remained in all cases

For the empirical part, the study analyzed all articles about the case of Syria and chemical weapons. from three newspapers: The Guardian, New York Times, and Izvestia. The final amount of articles after the removal of duplicates were 438, 468, and 89 respectively.

In all cases, the framing in these newspapers was largely compatible with the official line of their governments.

The authors found out that many stories contained evidence claims that strengthened an existing frame. Disconfirming evidence, on the other hand, was largely ignored. NYT showed least systematic omissions in this regard, in line with their dominant frame of uncertainty. 

However, when disconfirming evidence originated from high-profile sources, it was not ignored, but the evidence was later dismissed by other evidence supporting the existing frame or casting doubts on the motives of the source.

Frames extend to sources considered

The main finding was that dominant frames, once established, forcefully guide the journalists’ appraisal. Although some adjustments were made to the initial, no newspaper revised its initial assumptions significantly.  

Rather than open-mindedly assessing contravening claims and being ready to adjust the frame, journalists were shown to discredit these claims and their sources with suggestions of an agenda. This suggests that dominant frames also limit sources considered. 

Frame shifts coincided with shifts to foreign policy. This suggests that, if cultural path-dependency interpretation is true that all the actors were challenged to shift their shared understanding. With the strategic elite frame building interpretation, the frames changed according to policy preferences. 

The authors suggest these interpretations may be complementary. According to them, further studies should investigate different kinds of political news and identify factors that make journalists less or more likely to seriously reconsider a frame. 

The study “Maintenance of News Frames: How US, British and Russian News Made Sense of Unfolding Events in the Syrian Chemical Weapons Crisis” by Christian Baden and Katsiaryna Stalpouskaya was published in Journalism Studies (free abstract).

Picture: untitled by Rolands Zilvinskis, license Unsplash

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