July 13, 1998

Framing the News

Trigger

Trigger

In addition to identifying what narrative frames journalists used to present the news, the study tried to find what "triggered" each story to become news in the first place. Was a poll released? Did a news maker make a statement? Did the news organization decide to engage in enterprise on this topic? We called this factor the trigger.

We identified 19 possible triggers that would have made events into news. These ranged from statements by government news makers, anniversaries of events and new incremental facts to enterprise stories initiated by the news organization. (See appendix for complete list). Of these, five triggers dominated the news. They were:

  1. Statement by government news maker
  2. News organization enterprise
  3. Analysis or interpretation
  4. Preview of event
  5. Release of report or poll

The next most common were statements by non-government news makers, followed by actions or events involving non-government news makers.

Among front page stories, we find that stories that have been triggered by similar events are often written around the same frame. This relationship between trigger and frame may be a natural one­preview stories tended to be framed around conjecture and speculation more than around other frames. Other relationships between the frame of a story and the event that triggered it, however, may be less natural and reflect attitudes inside the newsroom culture.

For instance, in stories triggered by statements of government officials (the most common single news trigger), there was a definite predilection toward combativeness and conflict. Four-in-ten of these stories focused on conflict (21%), horse race (13%) or wrongdoing (5%)–higher than for other triggers.

Stories triggered by the news organization trying to analyze or interpret events also showed a trend toward conflict. These stories were nearly three times as likely to be framed around conflict inherent in the story as around points of agreement (13% versus 5%). This is in line with how often these frames appeared overall.

Stories stemming from newsroom enterprise, where a journalist actively goes out and gets the story, had their own tendencies. Almost half of the time, they were framed as ongoing trends (21%) or in-depth profiles of an individual (24%). Only 10% of these enterprise stories were reported around frames perhaps more useful to citizens­explaining how something worked (4%) or deeply examining a particular policy issue (6%).

As might be expected, stories triggered by a released poll or report were normally framed as an explanation of how things worked (19%), ongoing trends (24%) or reality checks (17%). Although these are the most natural frames for this trigger, it may be worth journalists' time to think about whether or not these are always the most useful frames. Rarely were poll stories framed with much historical context or around exploring the policy issues on which the poll touched.