July 13, 1998

Framing the News

Local versus National Papers

Local versus National Papers

There were some noticeable differences in the way local and regional papers in the study framed stories versus the three national papers, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The differences suggest that the front pages of local papers carry more straight forward reporting that focuses on the facts of a news event while the reporting in the nationals is more interpretative.

Local publications were twice as likely to run straight news accounts as were national papers, 21% versus 11%. Local journalists were also more likely to frame a story around the process of explaining how something works (5% versus 2%), such as a background piece about how the space shuttle flies or the steps to filing your tax return.

National papers, on the other hand, were more likely to look at the big picture when using explanatory narrative frames. They were almost twice as likely as local papers to develop stories as on-going trends or through the lense of historical outlook, (11% versus 7%).

There was little difference between national and local papers when it came to building stories around conflict, horse race or wrong doing. National papers did so 31% of the time while locals did it 28% of the time.

In addition to the overall trends, there were some interesting findings within the individual papers studied. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, was nearly as likely to run a personality profile on the front page (9%) as they were to run a policy exploration frame (10%). Only 7% of the time did it carry a straight news frame­just about half as often as it carried frames of conflict (13%). The L.A. Times, incidentally, ran significantly more front page stories than did any other paper in the study.

The New York Times, the Rocky Mountain News and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune were the most likely of the papers studied to run frames of conflict. They each employed this frame in roughly one out of every six stories (15%).

The Idaho Statesman was more than twice as likely as any other paper to develop a story that explains how something works (8% vs. 3% overall). It also framed stories around an exploration of policy more than others, 12% of the time, a level only matched by the Atlanta Journal. These tendencies suggest a perhaps unconscious bias in journalists toward approaching certain types of news the same way over and over. Not only can this lead to less interesting writing, it could very well cause a journalist to miss the real story or fail to serve the public as intended. If a journalist usually develops stories triggered by a government statement around conflict and horse race, there is a good chance he or she may miss an opportunity to explain the process of what's occurring or how it fits into other moments in history.