«1 Contested science in the media: linguistic traces of news writers’ framing activity Trine Dahl, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of ...»
In addition to the already noted divergence in the understanding and application of the notion of framing, another problematic aspect of framing research is the lack of compatibility across studies in terms of suggested frame categories (Hertog & McLeod 2001; de Vreese, 2005). Each new study tends to develop its own more or less unique frame set. In an attempt at developing a more unified application of framing as a process, de Vreese (2005) suggested a media frame typology consisting of generic and issue-specific frames. Porter & Hulme (2013), however, make the observation that “[e]ven in the seemingly unique context of geoengineering, journalists employ similar framings to those used for a diverse range of other issues” (p. 351). Several of the frames that have been posited for geoengineering are of a clearly generic nature, e.g., innovation and economics (Porter & Hulme, 2013), ambivalence, benefits for society and norms & values (Scholte et al., 2013), and war and fight (Luokkanen et al., 2013). Others, like controllability (Luokkanen et al., 2013) and messing with nature (e.g., Corner et al., 2013, a survey-based study of public perceptions), tend toward the issue-specific, even if they, too, may apply to other issues than geoengineering, e.g., nuclear power and biotechnology.
A text linguistic approach to framing Content analysis and metaphor studies (uncovering the ‘stories’ told), experiments and surveys (showing how the ‘stories’ are being perceived), and critical discourse analysis (focusing on ideological effects on discursive practices) are obviously relevant analytical approaches to studying framing. However, I believe that a text linguistic approach can add to our understanding of framing by providing insight into how writers exploit their rhetorical competence to strategically frame the issue at hand in the communicative context within which they operate.
Irrespective of methodological approach, a crucial first step in any empirical study is to define the relevant units of analysis. According to Entman (1993), the framing researcher needs to look for “the presence or absence of certain key words, stock phrases, stereotyped images, sources of information, and sentences that provide thematically reinforcing clusters of facts or judgments” (1993:52). Similar lists of framing elements are suggested in the geoengineering-related studies involving news discourse briefly introduced above, e.g., policy recommendations, headlines, and lexical choices (Porter & Hulme, 2013, p. 344), mentions of…, any material that…, and statements (Buck, 2013, p. 171), or sentences and phrases referring to… (Scholte et al., 2013, p.
7). As indicated in the introduction, a text linguistic analysis of framing will have to involve a systematic linguistics-based approach to the selection of features to be considered in the analysis.
In the next sections, the aim is therefore to outline such an approach in order to investigate news writers’ framing activity.
Key framing locations As already indicated, I here suggest that genre features may serve as a point of departure for identifying key framing locations. News texts tend to be classified into two broad categories, news and comment/opinion (e.g., Bell 1991),2 each with its own genre or register repertoire (e.g., hard versus soft news (White 1998) and comment in the shape of, e.g., feature articles or editorials). Headlines and leads are considered to be genre defining text features of news reports, where they serve the pragmatic functions of marketing and attention grabbing as well as information structuring and summarization (e.g., Cotter, 2010). Another defining feature of news reports is sources’ statements, which, inter alia, serve the function of authenticating the information and making it more ‘objective’ (Cotter, 2010), but which may also serve the news writer’s own ‘mission’ (Calsamiglia & López Ferrero, 2003), and mediate a specific value position (White, 2012).3 All these functions appear compatible with the notion of framing. It is therefore assumed that headline, lead, and sources’ statements are likely to represent important text locations for framing activity.
Framing indicators When it comes to news writers’ exploitation of linguistic resources for framing purposes, lexis reflecting semantic field (e.g., science, politics, economics; or risk, uncertainty, ethics) serves as an important indicator of which aspect (or aspects) of a potentially multifaceted phenomenon the journalist has chosen to make salient to his/her readers in a given context. In addition, it is suggested that the notion of evaluation offers a fruitful basis from which to study the framing process. Even if news reports are typically considered impersonal and ‘objective’, it has been demonstrated (e.g., White, 2012; see also Oddo, 2013) that there, too, attitudinal mechanisms are at work, serving to advance specific value positions. Evaluation is a complex notion which has been discussed within a variety of analytical frameworks (see, e.g., Hunston & Thompson, 2000).
The analysis here draws on Martin & White’s (2005) conceptually based Appraisal framework.
Martin & White (2005) establish a framework of appraisal resources related to attitudes, feelings, and values, used to construe interpersonal meaning. The framework comprises three interacting domains: attitude (involving emotions, judgment and appreciation), engagement (relating to the writer’s stance towards his/her own and others’ value positions), and graduation (involving gradability in terms of force (high/low intensity) or focus (core/marginal category membership)).4 The next section presents a case study intended to illustrate how a qualitative framing analysis based on the principles outlined above − linked to framing location and framing indicators − may be carried out.
Case study I start by a description of the material, including a brief overview of the context in which the texts were produced. I then go on to analyze framing activity, first in headline and lead, and then through sources’ statements.5 Next, I discuss the outcome of the analysis, drawing together framing information from each text in a table. This information in turn serves as a basis for undertaking a frame classification of the analyzed texts.
Material As indicated, the material for this case study consists of six news items which all report on a scientific study involving one of the very few geoengineering experiments carried out outside the scientific drawing board. The experiment was presented in the paper “Deep carbon export from a Southern Ocean iron-fertilized diatom bloom” (Smetacek et al., 2012), published in Nature (online) on July 18, 2012. The six texts have not been not arbitrarily selected. In August 2012, as I was googling for information on geoengineering, I accidentally came across two reports on the Nature experiment, published in the Guardian and the Daily Mail, respectively. The reports seemed to draw attention to different aspects and implications of the experiment. This spurred me to carry out further web searches − based on combinations of the search strings ‘geoengineering’, ‘climate’, ‘Smetacek’, ‘ocean iron fertilization/fertilisation, and ‘Nature’ − with the purpose of identifying more texts on the same event. My intention was to establish a corpus which could serve as a basis for a text linguistic framing analysis. The six texts to be analyzed here represent the only English-language written news items reporting on the study that I was able to identify through this search process.
As already indicated, the experiment involves ocean iron fertilization (OIF), a geoengineering technique which implies lacing the sea with iron. The iron stimulates the growth of blooms and plankton that sequester CO2, and the most important novelty feature of the research is the recording of what actually happens to the fertilized biomass as it sinks deep into the ocean. On July 18, AWI − the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, the home institution of the lead researchers − issued a press release on the paper. The Nature paper refers to geoengineering in its general motivation for undertaking the study: “The issue is currently receiving broad attention because OIF is one of the techniques listed in the geoengineering portfolio to mitigate the effects of climate change” (Smetacek et al., 2012, p.
313). Interestingly, the press release does not mention geoengineering at all, and motivates the importance of the study in the lead paragraph as follows: “These results […] provide a valuable contribution to our better understanding of the global carbon cycle” (AWI, 2012). The six news items were published on the same day as the scientific paper and press release, or the next, indicating that they may be responses to an embargoed text offer by the research institution to the media.
The analyzed texts come from the following sources (online versions): the US-based Scientific American (SA), New York Times (NYT), and Washington Post (WP), and the UK-based Guardian (GUA), Daily Mail (DM), and BBC News (BBC). In the following, the source abbreviations SA, NYT, WP, GUA, DM, and BBC will be used to indicate the texts or text producers. As for the American texts, SA appeared in the Energy & Sustainability News section of the popular science magazine, while NYT and WP are blog posts, from the New York Times’ ‘Green – A blog about energy and the environment’ (discontinued in March 2013) and Washington Post’s ‘Wonkblog’, respectively. As for the British texts, GUA appeared in the ‘Environment’ section of the newspaper, DM in the ‘Science’ section, while BBC appeared on the broadcaster’s website section ‘Science & Environment’. The six journalists are all environment and/or science reporters.
Four of the texts − SA, GUA, DM, and BBC – thus are news reports, while NYT and WP are newspaper blog posts. However, in terms of overall structure, the texts appear quite similar in that they all have a headline, a lead element, and sources’ statements. As for intended readership, it also seems reasonable to assume that readers of news reports found in the Science/Environment section of a newspaper/popular science magazine (interested non-specialist) are likely to share crucial features of readers of the dedicated Green blog (NYT). A cursory reading of the WP blog post indicated that the treatment of the issue/event reported on was also targeted at nonspecialists interested in climate change-related issues. Hence, on the basis of textual and contextual features (including the journalists’ field of expertise), the texts were considered sufficiently similar for current purposes to be discussed together. They will all be referred to as news reports.
Framing activity in headline and lead News text headlines (and in some cases also leads, e.g., Cotter, 2010) have been described in terms of, e.g., linguistic form (Bell, 1991), communicative function (Dor, 2003; Ifantidou, 2009) as well as in terms of their importance in framing a story (Pan & Kosicki, 1993). As regards news media practices, it is common knowledge that headline and lead are typically not produced by the reporting journalist, but by a subeditor (Bell, 1991; Cotter, 2010). This might lead to a different frame being exploited in headline/lead that in the body of the text. Readers will in such cases be left to negotiate potentially diverging messages. Whether there are instances of this kind in the current material will be addressed in the discussion below. The headlines for the six reports are given in Table 1, which also includes reporter name and publication date. The more extensive leads can be found in the Appendix.
Table 1. Headlines of the six news reports.
TEXTS HEADLINESSA Controversial Spewed Iron Experiment Succeeds as Carbon Sink (David Biello,18 July) NYT A Way to Trap Carbon Deep in the Ocean (Rachel Nuwer, 19 July) WP Could plankton help us tackle climate change? (Brad Plumer, 19 July) GUA Dumping iron at sea can bury carbon for centuries, study shows (Damian Carrington,18 July) DM Could dumping iron in the oceans cure climate change? First 'geo-engineering' trial is hailed a success (Rob Waugh, 18/19 July) BBC Climate ocean tech fix 'can work', research suggests (Richard Black, 18 July) As Table 1 shows, the headline producer of four of the texts makes use of lexis which refers to a research activity, marking this as the selected frame: experiment (SA), study (GUA), trial (DM),
and research (BBC), while the producers of two blog post headings only do so implicitly (NYT:
a way to trap carbon; WP: plankton…tackle climate change). Three of the headline producers (WP, DM, BBC) refer to the broader context (the climate issue), while the other three (SA, NYT, GUA) refer to the substance involved in the experiment, carbon, which is also the focus of the title of the Nature paper (see the previous section).