Sunday, February 15, 2009

Participatory News, Reforming Journalism Based on Framing Theory

Posted on behalf of John Devlin:

Framing theory is the idea of how people use expectations to make sense of everyday life situations, and how they unconsciously downshift and upshift frames using what they have learned throughout their lives. Sociologist Ervin Goffman developed this theory, and believed the power in frames was their ability to teach people. Goffman believed sometimes what is taught is bad. Goffman used the example of women presented in advertisements. They were depicted as less serious and more playful than men. This was due to many aspects in the advertisements from women’s smiles, to non-serious body positions, to wearing playful clothing, and even a willingness to take direction from men. Goffman stated this had effects on both men and women, and pointed out men learned from these advertisements in a misinterpreted way, and because of what they learned men may routinely misinterpret inadvertent actions by women. Goffman stated as a result from these advertisements, women might find it hard to maintain a serious frame for their actions. This theory shows that frames have effects on people; therefore frames must have effects on news audiences. Baron and Davis stated, “The most common finding is that exposure to news coverage results in learning that is consistent with the frames that structure the coverage.” (Baron and Davis pg. 322, Ryan, Carragee, and Meinhofer, 2001; Valkenburg and Semeko, 1999.) If the news is dominated by one source, that one source will mainly guide the audience, and the audience will learn specifically from that one frame. One specific source will create limitations for people especially when that source is negative. Continual coverage on that negative source; such as the war in Iraq, to diseases, to natural disasters, to accidents such as a passenger plane crash, will lead people to think only about these negative things and learn from them and only them, where they could be thinking and learning from more positive things. Theorists believe there are ways to overcome these limitations, and they want to advocate changes in journalism. Herbert Gans (2003) believes in a theory he calls “Participatory news”, which is news that reports on how citizens routinely engage in actions that have importance in their communities. Gans believes that this type of coverage in newspapers had basically vanished. He believes that this could be a vital part of encouraging people to become politically engaged; people could be learning positive aspects of their world and their community, instead they are learning negative aspects of the world and doing absolutely nothing about it, and these negative frames are over-powering everything people learn from the news. Do you believe framing exists in the news? Do you think the news is overrun with negative news reports that depict and teach people of a negative world? Do you think replacing continual negative news reports with positive news reports that show people making a profound and positive impact on their community will engage people in politics?


  1. I feel that "Participatory News" is a great concept and theory. Many individuals can watch the same news program at the same time and whether or not is in their own homes or at the same place, they will each have a different reaction to the broadcasted stories. Some will be challenged to do something in society, some will laugh and others will just move on to the next program on that or another station. I also believe that framing does exist in the world. We take our life situations and will always remember them when a similar situation comes along. "We can learn from playing little league baseball and then apply it when we play a more serious game-a real game of life in which theres more at stake." (Baran and Davis pg. 317) We can look back at that little league situation and understand why things happened the way it did. Was it because i did this, or that in a certain way. Then think of how you can improve it to make it better or for everyone, or the company or whatever the real life situation may be.
    As for the idea that the news is overrun with negative stories and reports; that is true. But that makes me think about if the news had more softer stories; would we think the world was a better place than it really was? It would just be the same theories we are talking about now, but opposite. If things happen in this world, they should be reported on and we should take the world as what it is. Both bad and good things happen. Whether or not we see them or not is up to the news station. I do think that some people would be influenced in their daily lives to do more good in the world if they saw different stories, however we would have to find a news station with that would want to lose sponsors, money and viewers.

  2. Before I turn on the news, I already know what I am about to see. If I’m watching local news I will get local violence, and problems followed by celebrity news, then weather and sports. In between there will probably be some “news team investigates” piece. This is how the news has been for years. Obviously, the news has frames, or else there would be a wider range of stories covered. I think the idea of “participatory news” sounds nice but it will never work.
    People are used to the way, the news is now. I think if they changed the format by adding many stories of how citizens engage in actions that have importance for their communities’ people will be confused. I liked the example the text used about how people know when a play is over because the curtain falls. Or know there is impending danger because of a change is music. I think adding a lot of stories about people doing good in their community will mess up social cues.
    Another thing, the news is very bias to famous people. I think if the news were to actually do this, they would put in stories about celebrities doing good for the community not average citizens. This once again wouldn’t be helping anything. Instead of participatory news, I liked the idea of explanatory journalism which is news that answers the “why questions” (Baran 323). I think this would help eliminate framing by helping people understand why certain stories are news.

  3. To comment on what was said about negative topics overshadowing the news, I agree with that for the most part. Negative events are usually out of the ordinary and cause people to ask questions, such as what happened, who was involved, and so on. These types of stories capture the attention of audiences because they are "frame violations," which often include "events that severely disrupt the status quo." (B&D 321) This negative frame that has been implanted in the foundations of news outlets and audiences alike does affect views of society and the world. However, there are a fair amount of positive stories that contain these characteristics as well and draw people in. Medical breakthroughs are one type of positive, abnormal news story. Another may be the charitable donations given to those affected by natural disasters. When it comes down to it, news organizations report on events that will interest their audience, whether they are positive or negative. Stories that get people thinking and talking and discussing are successful in the eye of the media outlet.

    I think that what Baron and Davis describe as "participatory news" would revolutionize the world of news. Hard news would no longer dominate networks' evening news programs. If audiences were able to voice their opinions and have a say on what is going on in their communities, this would provide a whole new batch of information upon which stories could be created. People would have the ability to learn from their neighbors and fellow audience members. Elitist views would no longer dominate society. Gans stated that "coverage of participation is the best way for journalists to effectively promote it," (323) and I definitely agree with that.

  4. I can honestly say that I used to never watch the news, whether from a local tv station or search the Internet for it, because I hated hearing such sad or scary stories about the world I live in. Now, though, I enjoy watching the news. It is important to know what is going on around you and to keep up with current events, even if they are about violence or disasters. I think we need to hear about these kinds of stories to educate ourselves in many ways, but I also think it is important to include some "upbeat" stories as well. I especially like when a "hero" story comes out of a sad event. This shows that although we sometimes may live in a scary world, there are good people out there who can rise above any situation.

    I think Gans' "participatory news" would be revolutionary to journalists and news media. He stated that this type of coverage has "vanished" today, and I never knew that it once prevelantly existed (323). It would get people more interested in different types of news besides celebrity gossip, because everyone loves the idea of getting their voice heard. Involvement is a key part to learning as well, so I think if more people were involved in the news process, only positive results could occur. Gans explains that "reports on social movements could be 'reframed' so they feature positive aspects rather than threats posed to the status quo" (323). I think more people will be less "afraid" of the news of this style was implemented. Communities would grow closer, while bringing a positive light to peoples lives. I think especially in today's times, everyone is sick of hearing about the troubling economy or war in Iraq. Although these are very important matters, they are also a bit depressing. Now more than ever, "participatory news" would truly create a healthier world.

    Meagan Finnegan

  5. I absolutely think that framing exists in the news. Watching the news just a few times can definitely cause someone to develop a set of expectations. You EXPECT to see negative stories on the news, and when you are shown otherwise, you are pleasantly surprised. I don't think that the news is necessarily overrun with negative news, I think that they cover those stories BECAUSE of the framing. That is what people expect to see, so those stories receive the most attention. I also agree with the fact that covering only "good" news would give people a false view of the world.

    Participatory news could definitely benefit the journalism world. Gans describes this news as "news that reports how citizens routinely engage in actions that have importance for their communities". [323] Think about how many more people would watch the news if it was more focused on the individual and their needs, rather than on disasters and horrible crimes happening miles away. Participatory news would give the community something to smile about for a change.