July 13, 1998

Framing the News

Topic

Topic

The range of topics was spread fairly evenly. With one exception, the seven papers studied demonstrated no clear pattern as to which story topics made page one and which didn't. The most dominant topic was politics, though the study occurred at the height of the impeachment process, so this number comes as no surprise and is likely higher than it might be at another time. Politics made up 26% of all the stories on the front page in the study.

Other than this quite possibly anomalous finding, no other topic stood out. But there were some interesting associations between topic and frame.

More than four-in-ten crime stories were told through combative frames [wrongdoing (26%), conflict (14%) and horserace (2%)]. Two-in-ten (22%) had straight news frames.

Stories about defense and foreign affairs were also most likely to have a combative frame. They did so one-third of the time. This topic also tended to be framed as conjecture about what is happening (13%) or as straight news (17%).

Nearly half (48%) of all political stories, which again were largely stories about the Clinton impeachment trial, had a combative frame. Fourteen percent were written as straight news, and in only 9% did journalists follow points of agreement.

A quarter of all economic and business stories were written as ongoing trends. Another quarter (26%) were either speculative (17%) or reality checks on the veracity of information (10%). Journalists may see this as the most effective way to help readers digest and understand complex financial stories.

One-third of all soft news stories (entertainment, human interest, popular culture, news media) were framed as profiles of famous people. Another 17% were framed as on-going trends.

Journalists seem to use a wide variety of frames for the topic of education and social issues. One-fifth (22%) were combative in nature. One-fifth (20%) were ongoing trends. One-fifth (21%) were policy exploration, and the remaining two-fifth's were scattered among the other frames.

The topics of health and medicine and of science and technology lent themselves to frames of explanation (process, ongoing trends or historical outlook). Journalists used these frames 44% of the time for health and medicine stories. That is three times as often as their use overall. Journalists used these frames 39% of the time for stories about science and technology.