Flexibility and Frameworks

Three theoretical frameworks found throughout media and politics research are agenda setting, framing, and public opinion. Agenda setting is how the media prioritize certain issues to publicize which in turn influences what the public perceives as important.Many people conceptualize agenda settings as the media telling us what to think about. McCombs and Shaw studied agenda setting in terms of how voters learn. They found that issue importance perceptions were linked to the news.[ii]We can see this today in how the media “tells us” what to think about. I found this video that compiled footage of the Obama/Clinton debate during the primaries for the 2008 election. After this debate, many media outlets focused on one of the questions from the debate concerning whether the candidates would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. While this was just one question, it was essentially made a huge issue by media outlets.

Framing is also an important theoretical framework. Nelson et. al. define framing as “the process by which a communication source constructs and defines a social or political issue for its audience.”[iii]For instance, if you look at how school shootings are covered, the media always uses predictable frames. Last year, I conducted a news framing analysis of the three largest school shootings in United States history and found similarities in how all three incidents were covered by the print media. The three largest school shootings were the University of Texas Massacre, the Columbine High School Massacre, and the Virginia Tech Massacre. I found that four frame combinations have remained popular in the reporting of school shootings. These frame combinations are “individual” and “present,” “community” and “present,” “regional” and “present,” and “societal” and “present.” While these combinations were most popular, the more recent events (Columbine and Virginia Tech) tended to use a wide variety of frame combinations, while the Texas coverage tended to specifically use the main combinations mentioned above. Small changes have occurred in framing of school shootings, but no major changes have occurred since the 1960s. Research on framing of national tragedies in the news is important to study because these frames essentially shape public opinion.[iv]

If agenda setting and framing affect public opinion, we must also look at the public opinion framework. In class we discussed how public opinion essentially keeps leadership in democracy on their toes. We also discussed how public opinion has no specific definition, making this framework very flexible. 

Many people consider public opinion to be measured by polls and numbers that are thrown up on our computer and television screens or embedded in our news articles. I found this comic to be entertaining, because many citizens do not question the numbers they see or read about public opinion. Public opinion research can be carried out in many ways, such as how Jamieson and Capella looked at the “echo chamber” in politics. This “echo chamber” is basically an interpretive community that can shape the opinions of its members.[v] The public opinion framework is still important and widely used today. After reviewing these frameworks, I believe that they are adequate for today’s media and politics research. While I believe they are adequate, nothing in life is perfect. With new and changing technologies, how political scientists conduct research and what frameworks they use to shape this research must also change. Each of these frameworks are flexible allowing for effective media and politics research to be conducted.

Class Lecture. October 11, 2011.

[ii] Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw.  1972.  “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media,”Public Opinion Quarterly, vol 36, no. 2.

[iii] Thomas E. Nelson, Zoe M. Oxley, and Rosalee A. Clawson.  1997.  “Toward A Psychology of Framing Effects,” Political Behavior, vol. 19, no. 3.   221.

[iv] Thomas E. Nelson, Zoe M. Oxley, and Rosalee A. Clawson.  1997.  “Toward A Psychology of Framing Effects,” Political Behavior, vol. 19, no. 3.   224.

[v] Jamieson and Capella. The Echo Chamber.