How to Evaluate Media Frames

So, what are the different ways to analyze how media frame our news? Two widely used paradigms are particularly instructive. And while they result from research specifically focused on political news coverage, these frameworks have broad application beyond politics. First, Entman (1993, 2004) argued that articles typically contain at least two of four main types of frames—frames that define a specific problem, diagnose a cause of that problem, make a moral judgment regarding that problem, and/or suggest remedies to that problem. We can identify these frames by analyzing the combination of key terms used (as the earlier example demonstrated), the types of information sources selected (or omitted), the chosen spokespersons, and the embedded images. As Entman explained, “These four framing elements hold together in a kind of cultural logic, each helping to sustain the others with the connections among them cemented more by custom and convention than by the principles of syllogistic logic.".

The second instructive media framing paradigm argues that news is conveyed as either a stand-alone, one-time event or just another example of a trend we’ve seen recur over time given a broader context. These types of frames are classified as either episodic (stand alone) or thematic (part of a broader context/trend). Iyengar (1991) teased out these frames in his study of how television news frames political issues. In addition to outlining the fundamental difference between episodic and thematic frames, he that the type of frame chosen influences how we attribute responsibility, which is quite a strong influencer of how we will shape our attitudes and opinions. In other words, if someone sees something as a standalone, episodic event, we place a different level of responsibility on the person or organization we see as responsible, rather than if we see the event as part of a longer, thematic trend. Certainly someone who is seen as responsible for an issue that keeps recurring, faces a far higher level of scrutiny than if it is seen as a random event. Iyengar summarized, “Policy preferences, assessments of presidential performance, and evaluations of public institutions are all powerfully influenced by attributions of causal and treatment responsibility. Attributions and the political opinions they generate permit citizens to exercise political control, even though the public’s level of factual knowledge is low."

Next Page: Episodic vs. Thematic Framing: An Example