The Center for Communications and Community is a journalism, research, and training institution working at the intersection of communications, race, and community transformation. The Center seeks to fill the void that exists between grassroots practitioners, the non-profit sector, media research scholars, working journalists, and policymakers interested in community development.
Recently we set out to examine in a novel way the connections between what people see in local newscasts and what they think about juvenile crime. We designed an experiment to assess the impact of the "superpredator news frame" in which the only difference between what groups of viewers saw in a news story involved the race of the alleged youth perpetrator.
Strategic frame analysis, the method advanced in this paper, allows a nuanced understanding of the role played by media and public opinion in impeding or advancing the goals of those who seek more public attention and resources allocated to youth. Strategic frame analysis relies on a series of methods adapted from traditional opinion research, media studies and cultural and cognitive fieldwork including survey research, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, media content analysis, metaphor analysis, and media effects tests. This paper applies the basic principles of strategic frame analysis to discern what Americans think about youth (especially teenagers), why they think what they do, what consequences this has for youth policy and policy advocates, and how policy advocates might best engage Americans in a discussion about positive youth development.
The Influence of Local Television News Frames on Attitudes about Childcare: An Evaluation Report to the Benton Foundation
Drastic changes in American lifestyles have called into question the future of America's children. For instance, the lack of kinship networks -- a product of urbanization and increased individual mobility -- limits the traditional child rearing functions performed by members of the extended family. Rising divorce rates and an increase in "out-of-wedlock" births produce more single-parent households. And as more women enter the workforce -- particularly outside of the home -- the role of women in the family is at odds with the historical pattern of men being the primary "bread-winners" and women taking care of the home and the family. The net result is that finding suitable childcare services is now a central feature of American family life.
In the midst of this evolving political landscape on which new debates about welfare ensued, the news media played and continues to play a critical role in the public's understanding of what "welfare" ought to be. Utilizing a novel experimental design, I wanted to examine the impact of media portrayals of the "welfare queen" (Reagan's iconic representation of the African-American welfare experience) on white people's attitudes about welfare policy, race and gender.
Where You Live and What You Watch: The Impact of Racial Proximity and Local Television News on Attitudes about Race and Crime
In this study, we integrate research findings on the impact of exposure to stereotype reinforcing local crime news with theories about the impact of residential context on attitudes about race and crime. To date, there has been no research investigating whether neighborhood context mitigates or exacerbates the impact of exposure to racially stereotypic crime news. We test extensions of two competing theories. According to the social contact hypothesis, under certain circumstances whites’ residential proximity to blacks might reduce the likelihood of further negative effects via exposure to racially stereotypic media messages. On the other hand, according to the group threat hypothesis, proximity to blacks might increase whites’ sensitivity to stereotype-reinforcing crime news. We collected information about the neighborhood racial context for each respondent in an experiment. We then exposed respondents either to racially stereotypic or non-stereotypic crime stories on local news programs. Results support our prediction based on the social contact hypothesis. When exposed to racial stereotypes in the news, white respondents living in white homogeneous neighborhoods endorsed more punitive policies to address crime, expressed more negative stereotypic evaluations of blacks, and felt more distant from blacks as a group. Whites from more mixed neighborhoods were either unaffected or moved in the opposite direction: endorsing less punitive crime policies, less negative stereotypes, and feeling closer to blacks as a group as a result of exposure to the stereotypic coverage. The implication of this moderating impact of residential integration is discussed.
Local television news is the public’s primary source of public affairs information. News stories about crime dominate local news programming because they maintain high audience demand. The prevalence of this type of reporting has led to a crime narrative or “script” that includes two core elements: crime is violent and perpetrators of crime are non-white males. We show that this script has become an ingrained heuristic for understanding crime and race. Using a multi-method design, we assess the impact of the crime script on the viewing public. Our central findings are that exposure to the racial element of the crime script increases support for punitive approaches to crime and heightens negative attitudes about African-Americans among white, but not black, viewers. In closing, we consider the implications of our results for intergroup relations, electoral politics, and the practice of journalism.