Framing is defined as “the action, method, or process, of constructing making or shaping anything whether material or immaterial” (Framing, 1989, p. 143). Framing comes from the word frame, which has many definitions. The most pertinent one, in this case, is “to share, direct (one’s thoughts, actions, powers, etc.) to a certain purpose” (Frame, 1989, p. 142). From these definitions of shaping a person’s thoughts, one can see how they relate to the definition specific to the field of communication.

In the study of communication, framing is “selecting and highlighting some facets of events or issues and making connections among them so as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution” (Entman, 2004, p. 5). This is often done to highlight the interests of elites (Entman, 2004, p. 5).

Framing and the Media

In the 1930s, the media was viewed as having the ability to directly persuade and influence audiences (Price & Feldman, 2009, p. 121). The audience was viewed as passive, simply allowing the media to inject it with ideas. As time passed and research grew, scholars took a more nuanced view of media. Agenda-setting research began to be studied.

Research began with McCombs and Shaw’s (1972) study of the 1968 presidential election. They found that if news media paid attention to certain issues then viewers rated those issues as more important (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, p. 183). This was referred to as agenda-setting. Knowing this study is important because framing is often associated with agenda-setting research. Agenda-setting is primarily concerned with the media telling people which stories to think about. However, news media not only tells people what to think about but also how to think about those issues, and this is where framing comes in. Some see framing as part of agenda-setting, others argue it is a very different thing (Shah, McLeod, Gotlieb, & Lee, 2009, p. 83). They both involve similar psychological processes but different cognitive processes (Shah, McLeod, Gotlieb, & Lee, 2009, p. 84).

Views of Framing

Framing can be looked at in two main ways- frame-building and frame-setting (de Vreese, 2005, p. 52). The term frame-building refers to “the factors that influence the structural qualities of news frames” (de Vreese, 2005, p. 52). Framing is applied to how journalists select stories, facts, etc (Kwansah-Aidoo, 2005, p. 48). News frames are formed through internal factors like occupational constraints of journalists, particularly editorial policies and news values and also through external factors like interactions between journalists and elites (de Vreese, 2005, p. 52). Frames inevitably highlight some issues but downplay others (Kwansah-Aidoo, 2005, p. 48). Journalists frame stories in particular ways in order to get people to either read or view (Kwansah-Aidoo, 2005, p. 48). These important factors influence how a frame is built.

Frame-setting is “the interaction between media frames and individuals’ prior knowledge and dispositions (de Vreese, 2005, p. 52). This is often what scholars are concerned with studying, focusing most on the consequences of framing (de Vreese, 2005, p. 52). Research has shown that frames do affect how viewers view stories (Gastil, 2008, p. 59). In particular, the way a story is framed can affect what appears as most important, who the victim appears to, who is to blame, etc. (Gastil, 2008, p. 59).
In addition to the consequences of framing, much research has been conducted to determine how news media outlets frame stories. Particularly when dealing with political issues, the media frames things in an episodic way or a thematic way (Iyengar, 1994, p. 2). An episodic frame focuses of a single, specific event or issue at hand, whereas a thematic frame places issues and events on a larger, more analytical level (Iyengar, 1994, p. 2). Thematic frames are much less common. In particular, research has shown that political and election stories are framed in an episodic way, focusing on winning and losing, using a game or competition schema, emphasizing candidates’ style, and highlighting polls (de Vresse, 2005, p. 55).

The internet may change framing research. With the advent of the internet, people can be exposed to many different frames because of the infinite amount of information available online (Metzger, 2009, p. 564). These frames may compete with each other giving a more holistic view of a story or issue (Metzger, 2009, p. 564). However, the audience also plays a greater role in selecting media and which frames they are exposed to when using the internet which could result in exposure to similar frames and attitude reinforcement (Metzger, 2009, p. 564). More research is needed on this issue.


Now the notion of counterframing is studied. Counterframing occurs when the news media alter a previous narrative (Klein, Byerly, & McEachern, 2009, p. 333). This has been studied recently about the Iraq War (Klein et al., 2009). The news media began framing the war in a positive way, but its frame became much more negative as time passed (Klein, Byerly, & McEachern, 2009).

The internet website, as an extension of the Nike corporation, is a good example of both the use of framing and counterframing. Waller and Conaway (2011) discuss the ways in which Nike had to defend against the negative framing surrounding some corporate reponsibility issues that were constructed by an anti-Nike coalition. Rather than the news media framing the issue, the media coverage came after the coalition had constructioned a particularly negative frame. However, the company, using its website was able to defend and improve its reputation. So, counterframing and framing happens within mediated channels of discourse; however, they are not restricted to news media and the internet is afffecting the ways in which messages are constructed and consumed as Waller and Conaway illustrate.

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