Is framing in news coverage necessary or just wrong?

By: Melissa Reeves

After last week’s State of the Union address, the Washington Post put together a collection of headlines from newspapers around the country that covered the hour-long speech. The headlines ranged from broad, “‘Better Politics’ Sought’ from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, to specific, “Obama’s State of the Union: Raise taxes on the 1%” from The Standard-Times.

What’s most interesting, though, are the headlines that instead of focusing on the contents of the speech made judgment calls on the content, such as the New York Times’ “A Bold Call To Action, Even If No Action Is Likely” headline. The NYT is summing up the event and deciding how realistic the perceived desired action is.

The question that arises from this coverage is whether the news media has an obligation to just report the facts, or is it in the best interest of the public to interpret these facts and predict an outcome. According to the Nielsen ratings, almost 32 million people watched the State of the Union address, which is actually low. Therefore, one could argue that for the almost 90% of Americans who didn’t watch it, they could benefit from more context than just a play by play. But at the same time the article, or the headline at least, is framing the discussion in a way that focuses on the unlikelihood of this “bold call to action” going anywhere. And, while we’re at it, who made the judgment that the president’s call to action was “bold”?

Many academic papers in the journalism field have focused on the benefits and downsides of “framing” news stories, and depending on the journalists you ask, you’ll either hear that it’s a necessary way to narrow the scope of the story or that it inserts too much of the writer’s opinion into the article.

This is why it is important to get news from a variety of sources; coverage of one event will vary depending on who is covering it. Some newspapers focused on Obama “standing his ground,” while others focused on his commitment to the middle class. To get a full picture, more than one source is needed.

If you didn’t watch the speech yourself, you might need to read the Washington Post, the NYT, and a local newspaper to get the different perspectives that will make up a more full view of what the speech actually entailed.

As a media monitoring service, we are focused at all times on comprehensive coverage. That is the only way to get the full picture. Between framing, slanting and partisanship, one source is just one piece of the puzzle.

Learn more about comprehensive print monitoring.