«1 Contested science in the media: linguistic traces of news writers’ framing activity Trine Dahl, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of ...»
(10) And such techniques might be capable, at best, of sequestering one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (based on the extent of iron-deficient waters around the globe), compared with annual human emissions of more than eight billion metric tons and rising. “There is massive uncertainty in this figure, and until much more research is done no serious scientist should express any confidence in such estimates,” of iron fertilization's geoengineering potential, cautions oceanographer Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Center in England, who also argues that more research into such potential geoengineering techniques is needed due to the failure of global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (SA) The journalist’s choice of the first reporting verb, cautions, implies that he ‘stands with’ the statement (White, 2012). The journalist uses the attributed statement to back the unattributed claim that such techniques might be capable, at best, of…. As regards the second reporting verb, argues, its attitudinal value is less clear. There are also occurrences of evaluative reporting verbs in WP and GUA, but only in combination with genericized (Calsamiglia & López Ferrero, 2003)
(11) Yet other scientists warn that even if this plankton scheme worked, it would likely only play a small part of any effort to tackle climate change. (WP) (12) What’s more, some scientists are still worried about the consequences of artificially mucking with ocean ecology in this way.(WP) (13) Geoengineering – technologies aimed at alleviating global warming – are [sic] controversial, with critics warning of unintended environmental side effects or encouraging complacency in global deals to cut carbon emissions. (GUA) In each of these cases, the journalists’ choice of reporting verb may again be interpreted as signaling association with the source’s statement, further indicated in Example (11) by the downscaled amount of CO2 that may be captured (likely only…a small part) and in Examples (12) and (13): negative appreciation (artificially mucking with; unintended…side effects, complacency). In Example (13), the attributed statement serves as an elaboration of, and support for, the journalist’s own categorical claim, expressed in the first part of the sentence, that geoengineering is controversial.
Discussion Previous framing studies have suggested that it is not always possible to characterize texts by single frames, but rather in terms of frame sets (e.g., Buck, 2013; Porter & Hulme, 2013; Van Hout, Pander Maat, & De Preter, 2011). In order to assess which frame(s) each of the six texts analyzed here may be related to, Table 2 sums up the main aspects of the event (experiment) and issue (geoengineering) that were made salient through the news reporter’s use of framing indicators in the three framing locations.
There are, as one would expect, reflections of intertextual borrowing (shared linguistic material) between the trigger texts (Nature paper and press release) and the six news items.6 The reporting of a scientific study is clearly the foundation in both trigger and news texts. However, the text linguistic analysis, the outcome of which is condensed in Table 2, seems to corroborate the claim that a news text may draw on multiple – and sometimes divergent – frames. In the context of the broader issue of employing geoengineering techniques to moderate global warming (Shepherd et al., 2009), the research reported on is considered either as progress (conveying a techno-optimistic view of science), a necessary evil, or as potentially dangerous interference with nature. As Table 2 illustrates, all the texts except DM to varying degrees refer to the complexity of the phenomenon of geoengineering. SA, NYT, WP, GUA, and BBC draw attention to several of the aspects currently reflected in the scientific community as well as in society at large, such as the need for a plan B, moral hazard (complacency with regard to mitigation), messing with nature (the uncertainty associated with unknown side effects), and governance (cf. Corner et al., 2012).
DM, on the other hand, keeps strictly to the science. This may be further demonstrated through Example (14), where the journalist draws attention to the very modest amount of CO2 that may be captured through this technique, also alluded to in BBC (Example 6), GUA (Example 9), SA (Example 10), and WP (Example 11). However, in DM this, too, is framed in an optimistic
scientific progress context through a countering clause:
(14) At present, the technique could only be used to 'mop up' around a tenth of global carbon emissions - but scientists continue to investigate. (DM) In a similar vein, the NYT journalist, while letting lead author Smetacek concede (Of course) that such mitigation techniques could only play a rather modest role, also lets him counter this (Still)
with a statement alluding to future potential through positive appreciation (useful):
(15) Of course, the ocean's capacity for carbon sequestration would mitigate only a fraction of the world's current annual carbon dioxide emissions, Dr. Smetacek said. Still, it could eventually be a useful geoengineering technique for alleviating climate change, he suggested. (NYT) The issue of frame categories and labels was touched upon in the review of the framing literature. On the basis of the framing information identified through the analysis of framing indicators in the three locations of headline, lead, and sources’ statements (Table 2), I suggest that in the analyzed material, the text producers have exploited three main frames in their reporting on the geoengineering experiment: scientific progress, plan B, and messing with nature.
Scientific progress denotes a positive, generic (de Vreese, 2005) frame, plan B is an ambivalent, issue-specific (de Vreese, 2005) frame, while messing with nature represents a negative, issuespecific frame. The classification in Table 3 shows that four of the texts (NYT, WP, DM, and BBC) are considered to primarily exploit the scientific progress frame, while one text (SA) is seen as mainly exploiting the messing with nature frame. One text (GUA) is posited as drawing on all three frames.
DM is the clearest representative of the scientific progress frame. The main focus of the journalist is on the scientific experiment and OIF as a geoengineering technique. The research is outlined in mainly positive terms in all three framing locations. As for NYT, WP, and BBC, traces of other frames are present, but scientific progress remains the dominant frame. In SA, the journalist clearly focuses on the science, but not within a progress frame. Rather, it is made abundantly clear that the success of the experiment depends heavily on specific research conditions, and that any CO2 sequestration is of a very modest and temporary nature. The potential for a negative impact on the ocean environment is conveyed as the final message of the text (Example 5), contributing to the classification of the text into the messing with nature category. Finally, GUA may be seen as drawing on all the three suggested frames. It is the only text that exploits one frame in the headline and lead and other frames through the sources’ statements, a situation probably caused by the institutional practice of having different text producers for headline/lead and body. In headline and lead, the focus is on the scientific experiment and its success in showing that this OIF technique has the potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for a significant period. This implies a scientific progress framing.
However, through sources’ statements in the body of the text, the journalist draws attention to the dilemma inherent in geoengineering research: yes, geoengineering may be dangerous and have uncertain consequences, but doing nothing may be the worst option. This position is mediated through a fairly balanced exploitation of the two frames messing with nature and plan B. Such a dual framing is currently also present in public debates on climate change and was expressed by Professor Piers Foster, a lead author of the recently published 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In a comment on geoengineering techniques, discussed for the first time in Working Group I’s Summary for Policymakers, he stated that “[t]he policy relevance of the information is that if you do not start mitigating tomorrow we will have to start to consider these unattractive options” (Cressey, 2013).
Conclusion Framing is a notion which has proved its relevance in discourse-related research through a large number of studies undertaken in a variety of epistemological contexts. The basic meaning of the notion seems intuitively easy to grasp, as it is associated with cognitive processes we all engage in as language users, both in relation to text production and text reception. However, to pin it down as a concept to be operationalized in text analysis is a different matter. The current study took its point of departure in Entman’s (1993) definition of framing as related to selection and salience and his observation that “nowhere is there a general statement of framing theory that shows exactly how frames become embedded within and make themselves manifest in a text” (p.
51). After a brief overview of the framing literature related to news text studies involving the contested and many-faceted phenomena of climate change and geoengineering, I suggested that text linguistics may be an important methodological contributor to the field, which has so far been dominated by studies within the tradition of quantitative content analysis, typically aiming to identify the ‘stories’ told about the phenomenon under study. Being primarily interested in writer behavior, I argued that a qualitative analysis based on systematically applied linguistic principles – linked primarily to genre and the notion of evaluation – can provide valuable insight into how written news texts reflect journalists’ strategic framing activity. The complex and coherent Appraisal framework (Martin & White, 2005), was used as a basis for a case study involving a small corpus of six news texts which were all related to the same trigger event, the publication of a scientific paper on a rare real-life geoengineering experiment. The discussion of linguistic material, identified in the genre elements of headline, lead, and sources’ statements, confirmed that the journalists did undertake important framing activity at these locations in the text, through framing indicators revealing what aspects of the phenomenon reported on they had decided to make salient to their readers. Lexemes belonging to a specific semantic field (e.g., experiment, research, governance) obviously served as important framing indicators, as did explicitly evaluative items like succeed or controversial, indicating the journalist’s alignment with or distancing from posited claims and statements. An example of this was the rendering of the temporal dimension of carbon sequestration, an important aspect of the scientific study (may sequester carbon for timescales of centuries). This was presented with varying degrees of positive intensification in four of the texts (e.g., possibly for centuries, for many centuries), as both positive and negative in one text (for many centuries or longer, only for decades to centuries), and as only negative in one text (for a few centuries at best). The fine-grained text linguistic analysis also made it possible to distinguish between a positive (e.g., DM) and negative (SA) science-related frame, a distinction that might have been more difficult to identify through a quantitative content analysis. The same applies to the discussion of sources’ statements and how they contributed in the journalist’s framing activity.
Future work on writers’ framing activity along the lines pursued in the current paper should involve other languages and writing cultures, ideally complemented by interviews with news reporters in order to uncover additional linguistic features and contextual considerations involved in their framing activity.
Brüggemann (2014), in a discussion of journalistic framing practices and the notions of ‘frame setting’ (personal interpretation of the issue) and ‘frame sending’ (relaying interpretations by various public actors), notes that:
[j]ournalism is not only the result of individual decision-making. It is the result of a process of collective sense-making within the newsroom and a negotiation of meaning between journalists and sources […] With this in mind, journalistic products will only partly reflect the frames of an individual author. Instead, journalists will always practice some degree of frame setting and frame sending when assembling bits of information into news stories (pp.
65-66, italics in original).
Input on this distinction from news writers in various cultures may complement the linguistic approach to framing activity demonstrated here, along with considerations regarding the interplay between the journalist’s own framing and the overall newsroom frame (Scheufele 2006), embodying editorial policy. In discussions of news reports on contested phenomena like climate change and geoengineering, the news source’s overall position on the issue is clearly of relevance (e.g., Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004; Carvalho, 2007).
The review of previous framing studies and the current discussion of the case study texts indicate that it would be helpful if more unified frame sets (and labels) were agreed on in the field of framing studies. I am of course not advocating for establishing a static frame set for a particular phenomenon, but as indicated by Porter & Hulme’s (2013) observation (quoted earlier), even framings identified for the specific issue of geoengineering tend to be similar to those used for a number of other phenomena. If framing studies made a habit of indicating which generic frame(s) the material under investigation may be related to, in addition to developing more specific issue frames, this could create more common ground among framing researchers.
This would be especially relevant for investigations of contested scientific issues, as they tend to attract attention from a variety of disciplines and methodological traditions. More compatible frame categories would thus make a valuable contribution to multi- and interdisciplinary research initiatives involving such issues.