Scientific description is a systematic effort to selectively represent a complex reality in order to highlight patterns and specific phenomena that can be subjected to scientific explanation. Specific representations enable different kinds of explanations. An explanation consists of a demonstration that a set of conditions is present for which there is a rule predicting that the explained phenomenon should follow, and a theoretical account that elucidates why these conditions are sufficient. The conditions and rules sustaining the explanation can themselves be described and explained, resulting in substantial overlap between description and explanation.
Frames are “central organizing ideas” that provide context, structure, and meaning to information, facilitating a specific interpretation of an issue. Counting among the most popular ideas in communication study in recent years, variants of frame analysis have developed within a variety of disciplines inside and outside of communication. Methodologically, qualitative as well as quantitative approaches to frame analysis can be organized along three dimensions: their capture of latent versus manifest meanings, their adherence to inductive versus deductive processes, and their focus on generic or issue-specific frames. Increasing numbers of studies using frame analytic techniques have resulted in a contested and fragmented set of methods, the most influential of which are discussed in this entry.
Journalistic news coverage plays an essential role for providing an audience with a diverse, multifaceted perspective upon public affairs. However, in the scholarly debate, most measures of viewpoint diversity do not distinguish between statements raising commensurable interpretations, and contributions that construct different meaning in a consequential sense. We provide an operationalization of viewpoint diversity that builds upon a tradition of identifying distinct interpretations through framing analysis. Going beyond frame diversity, we then distinguish between equivalent, complementary and competing, diverse interpretations: we consider as commensurable those frames that derive from the same ‘interpretative repertoire’, a notion borrowed from discourse studies. We propose a strategy for operationalization and the measurement of viewpoint diversity. Our focus on meaningfully different interpretations contributes to advancing research into journalism, political opinion formation, audience elaboration, and other important fields of study.
News coverage of the same events is simultaneously driven by homogenizing and heterogenizing influences. In this paper, we assess whether and when conflict news in different media become more similar or dissimilar by analyzing the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 13 leading Israeli, Palestinian, and international media over almost 10 years. We distinguish between drivers of enduring similarity, gradual convergence and temporary (dis-)alignments in the news, and relate them to the detected concept association patterns in over 200,000 news texts. We find a slow, context-dependent convergence trend in the news, and temporary alignments and dis-alignments in interpretation in response to major conflict events. Discussing the underlying, interacting influences, the study highlights implications for investigating current transformations in global journalism.
Opinion polls are a well-established part of political news coverage, especially during election campaigns. At the same time, there has been controversial debate over the possible influences of such polls on voters’ electoral choices. The most prominent influence discussed is the bandwagon effect: It states that voters tend to support the expected winner of an upcoming election, and use polls to determine who the likely winner will be. This study investigated the mechanisms underlying the effect. In addition, we inquired into the role of past electoral performances of a candidate and analyzed how these (as well as polls) are used as heuristic cues for the assessment of a candidate’s personal characteristics. Using an experimental design, we found that both polls and past election results influence participants’ expectations regarding which candidate will succeed. Moreover, higher competence was attributed to a candidate, if recipients believe that the majority of voters favor that candidate. Through this attribution of competence, both information about prior elections and current polls shaped voters’ electoral preferences.
Collective memory is a current interpretation of the past that members of a group recognize as commonly shared. The study of collective memory has developed in fields as diverse as sociology, anthropology, social psychology, history, cultural studies, and communication. Collective memory concerns a group's recollections of the past, construed through the perspective of the present, and interpreted to serve present purposes. It emerges from active constructions of the past, typically achieved through the interplay of a wide range of actors. To become manifested as a shared narrative, resulting constructions must be widely disseminated and appropriated by individuals in a group to ensure mutual awareness. As a consequence, collective memory exists in the shared and private imagination of people, and is represented in the texts, practices, and artifacts of a group. The construction, dissemination, appropriation, and discursive mobilization of collective memory play significant roles in political processes.
Given the rising use of visual and multimodal information, text-oriented framing research is at risk of losing traction with current media reality. We propose applying frame processing theory as a general framework for understanding how coherent meaning is constructed from complex stimuli, regardless of their modality: Both visual and textual information processing follow a recursive sequence of (a) selective perception/structuring, (b) decoding, (c) the construction of relations, and (d) their integration into coherent meaning. The specifics of visual and textual modalities provide varying degrees of structuring and salience within a fundamentally unified information processing process. Integrating advances from framing and visual communication research, we discuss implications for the empirical analysis of multimodal news contents, and sketch an agenda for research.
Does news users’ commentary contribute to widening the diversity of viewpoints represented in the news? This article comparatively analyses the interpretations of the current financial crisis in the online coverage of five German newspapers and the subsequent commentary of news users. Using an innovative strategy to identify the interpretative repertoires constructed by news and user frames, it assesses how user commentary deviates from those viewpoints represented in the news. Findings show that user accounts mostly remain within the wider interpretative repertoires offered by the media. However, they utilize media frame fragments rather freely to construct their own views, shifting focus and elaborating upon new aspects. While no consistent alternative repertoires were constructed, users thus valuably complemented the diversity of concerns discussed on news websites.
Politische Akteure nehmen die Massenmedien als zunehmend mächtig wahr und orientieren sich daher vermehrt an der Medienlogik. Dies führt u. a. zu einer Professionalisierung des politischen Kommunikationshandelns. Wie professionell die Kommunikation politischer Akteure ist, wurde bislang nur auf Bundes- und Landesebene untersucht, nicht jedoch im kommunalen Kontext. Die vorliegende Studie widmet sich dieser Forschungslücke und untersucht die Professionalität der kommunalpolitischen Kommunikation. Wir befragten 372 Angehörige bayerischer Stadt- und Kreistage zu ihren politischen Kommunikationsaktivitäten, mit besonderem Fokus auf deren Routinekommunikation. Die Ergebnisse belegen eine auch auf kommunaler Ebene wahrgenommene zunehmende Relevanz politischer Kommunikation, welche mit einer hohen Bedeutungszuschreibung an medienspezifische Kommunikationskompetenzen einhergeht. Aus dieser Wahrnehmung folgen allerdings kaum bedeutende Professionalisierungsanstrengungen – und das, obwohl sich die Befragten der Diskrepanz zwischen Anspruch und Wirklichkeit durchaus bewusst sind. Der Artikel schließt mit einer Diskussion möglicher Ursachen dieser Diskrepanz und formuliert Implikationen für die Medialisierungs- und Professionalisierungsforschung.
Not quite professional. Assessing the professionalism of Bavarian local politicians‘ communication activities
The influence of media upon social communication is pervasive: The need to adapt to specific media logics drives the increasing professionalization of political communication practices. Specifically, much attention has been given to media-related changes in the representation and professionalized conduct of political campaigns. However, surprisingly little is known about the influence of mediatization beyond the electoral race, and virtually no research exists that investigates mediatization on a local level. This study investigates whether mediatization is felt also among local politicians, and triggers a similar dynamic of increasing professionalization. Focusing on routine communication practices in local politics, it conducts a survey among 372 members of Bavarian regional parliaments. It assesses the perceived role of media, as well as respondents’ professionalization strategies developed to communicate effectively in public. The study finds that the perception of media influence and the ascribed importance of media-related competences is high also in a local context. However, this perception is not accompanied by major professionalization efforts. Moreover, politicians are generally aware of this discrepancy. The paper concludes by discussing possible reasons for the detected gap between aspiration and reality, and highlights implications for professionalization and mediatization theory.
In public discourse, meaning is constantly renegotiated. Frames and other semantic structures are co-constructed in the public debate based on the contributions of many discourse participants. Over time, they incorporate new information and interpretations. As a result, time-dependent changes occur both on the level of manifest contributions and on the level of latent structures organizing discourse into meaningful frames. This article introduces a technique capable of analyzing the changing patterns of meaning in a genuinely dynamic fashion. It applies Evolutionary Factor Analysis (EFA), a recently developed technique for treating high-dimensional data with time-changing latent structure. Using EFA, we uncover evolving patterns on different levels of abstraction within our data, which represent discourse as a detailed semantic network. We investigate specific dynamics expected within dynamic discourse (e.g., emergence, evolution, consolidation, crisis) and analyze the time-changing structure and content of meaning. The methodological innovation presented in this paper allows a detailed analysis of micro-level changes organized by latent higher-level structures: It can be transferred to a variety of social phenomena organized by structures that evolve over time (e.g., public opinion, social interaction). Rendering their dynamic behavior accessible to statistical analysis, it offers new theoretical insights into their mechanics and underlying structure.
Honorable Mention, Communication Methods & Measures Article of the Year 2014
The social relevance of framing effects hinges upon their ability to persist. This article develops a theoretical account of the conditions under which framing effects should vanish quickly, fade slowly, or cause permanent changes. It argues that the cognitive processes involved in mediating frame effect need to leave durable traces in a person's knowledge to raise a persistent effect. This paper distinguishes temporary changes in the accessibility of knowledge from durable changes in the applicability structure and belief content. It discusses under which conditions these memory traces will likely affect judgment formation also after the stimulus is gone. We argue that the durability of framing effects can be modeled based on the chronic accessibility of frame-relevant knowledge and the familiarity of the frame.
Frames affect the meaning of information by embedding it within selective, coherent, and purposefully chosen context. Over the last decades, researchers have ventured to explore how the provision of specific frames affects and alters people's interpretations and evaluations. They have derived a wide variety of approaches to the study of frames, and have advanced complementary as well as competing theories of how the well-known framing effect can be explained. A related aspect that has largely eluded scientific attention so far, however, is how frame-induced variations of derived meaning relate to the discursive construction, as well as the cognitive acquisition and elaboration of meaning required to make sense of a complex reality. This thesis addresses this question. It develops and empirically tests a perspective on framing that views frames as embedded within larger semantic networks. In the theoretical second chapter, frames are conceptualized as locally coherent patterns within the propositional structure of discourse on the one hand, and cognition on the other. Linking this view to the dominant perspectives on framing in scientific discourse, this approach achieves four main objectives: First, it provides a conceptualization of frames that relates to both linguistic and psychological (notably: schema-based) theories of meaning. It hence allows reformulating past theorizing and findings about frames within a common conceptual framework – the semantic network. Second, as a consequence, it provides a platform upon which the competing process models advanced within the study of framing effects can be integrated into a single, multi-stage cognitive process. Third, based on this integrated model, predictions can be made about the cognitive reconstruction of frames from communication, enabling people to embed information meaningfully into coherent context. Frames are thus understood as structures facilitating and directing the acquisition of complex knowledge. Finally, the developed conceptualization allows a much more detailed and precise operationalization of frames than common holistic approaches, and enables an inductive identification of frames. The various propositions and predictions derived from the theoretical model are empirically tested in the subsequent chapters. Chapter III introduces the case chosen for data collection: This study captures the propositions and frames advanced in relation to the EU Constitution during the referendum campaign in the Netherlands, and juxtaposes these with the beliefs and cognitive frames formed by Dutch voters. The EU Constitution has been selected as a salient but novel concern which related to scarce but well-organized prior knowledge among the Dutch electorate. It therefore provides a suitable case for studying the acquisition and integration of knowledge from public communication. In chapter IV, the core theoretical propositions regarding the cognitive mechanisms of frame processing are tested experimentally. For this purpose, subjects were exposed to framed messages varying with regard to their semantic context, focal issue, and evaluative drift. Subsequently, participants‘ spontaneous associations with the focal concept were recorded. In line with the theoretical model, results indicate that framing is best understood as a predominantly semantic effect, wherein contextual cues raise different schematic knowledge for information processing. The evaluative shifts often noted in the study of framing effects derive from the knowledge tapped for processing and are not directly affected by the provided frame itself. Chapter V focuses on the structure of frames rendered available to Dutch voters, analyzing the contents of mass media discourse and the political parties' referendum campaigns. Based on the recorded propositional structures, several expectations about the composition and alignment of frames within discourse are tested. Results show that frames relate to one another within the narrative and argumentative structure of persuasive accounts, while the frames used in news reporting do not necessarily form coherent patterns. However, consonance between different sources' news frames was markedly higher than within political discourse. Turning toward cognitive representations, chapter VI assesses the belief structures formed by Dutch voters with regard to the EU Constitution. While the importance of frame structures in crafting coherence within accounts is further corroborated, the identified cognitive frames deviate in systematic ways from those provided in public discourse. Notably, people show considerable discretion of which available frames they accept and include into their accounts. Voters‘ narratives rarely followed those templates advocated in public, but combined considerations taken from various sources, using frames to weave connections between the selected shards of knowledge. In order to further substantiate the differences and similarities detected between communicated and acquired frames, chapter VII performs a comparative analysis of the semantic networks constructed from either source. It finds that television and political sources were most influential for the formation of people's understandings, followed by broadsheet newspapers. Moreover, results show that people combined and reconciled frames with opposing evaluative drift, advanced by rival campaigning actors. People were notably more reliant on communicated frames regarding novel, unobtrusive, and current issues, while prior knowledge mostly overrode provided frames on familiar, long standing issues. In summary, this thesis argues that frames are integral to the formation of coherent accounts in discourse and cognition. It advocates a wide view that focuses not so much on isolated, single frames and their effects, but on the interplay of various interrelated frames in both communication and cognition. This study provides a theoretical framework for investigating how frames create coherent meaning from disparate propositions. Simultaneously, it considers how multiple frames relate to one another within narrative and persuasive communication. Thus addressing structures both beyond and within the frame, it provides a methodological approach that is well-tailored to translate the theoretical concerns into discernible measures. The semantic network based view on frames advanced in this study hence furthers our understanding of frames in at least three respects: First, it helps disentangling several concepts that have been confounded in the literature, adding precision to the theoretical debate. Second, it supports a methodological framework capable of translating the gain in theoretical precision into well-differentiated measures. Finally, it contextualizes frames, relating these to other important concepts in the study of communication and information processing. The present dissertation thus underscores the relevance of frames, which rests to a large degree in their contribution to the creation of meaning from information.
This article investigates how voters made sense of the Dutch EU constitutional referendum. Based on a series of focus group interviews, it identifies what information people based their understandings on, and traces the relations they draw between concepts in their own accounts of their vote choices. Applying a cognitive connectionist perspective on the construction of meaning, it models people's considerations as paths across semantic networks. It finds that people shared considerable parts of the knowledge underlying their constructions, but used this information quite differently. They strategically selected frames from their information environment, and reframed contrary arguments to fit their constructions. Yes- and No-voters drew in systematically different additional information, while simultaneously engaging idiosyncratic concerns to personalize their accounts. People's understandings are thus informed and constrained, but by no means determined, by public discourse. Highlighting people's activity and creativity, this paper calls for a stronger audience perspective in political communication research.