‘Reality’ in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
This study reveals that the viewpoint of women, minorities, children, adolescents and seniors is underrepresented in this metropolitan newspaper. Caucasian adult males dominate as sources and characters throughout the publication.
Many newspapers across the country are faced with decreasing circulation. Editor & Publisher reported that of 25 largest U.S. dailies, 18 lost readers in 1997.1 According to W.R. Simmons & Associates Research Inc., readership of daily newspapers since 1970 has dropped by more than 19 percent.2 Although newspaper profits have rebounded somewhat since the 1991 recession 3 readership declines continue, and appear to be sharpest among women and minorities, and those aged 34 and younger.4
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the newspaper examined in this study, is no exception to this downward trend. USA Today reported that the PostDispatch saw the greatest circulation decline between 1991 and 1995 of any newspaper in the country, losing 16 percent of its subscribers.5
Although circulation drops have been a growing concern for editors and publishers for years, few attempts to reverse this trend have been successful. Such attempts have included getting readers more involved, marketing newspapers as commodities and practicing public journalism.6 A recent suggestion for reversing growth decline is for newspapers to update their news definitions to include everyone in the community the newspaper serves. This definition includes both males and females, as well as people of all ages, occupations, races and socioeconomic classes.7
It has been argued that journalistic quality is affected when the media do not meet their responsibility to include a variety of sources and viewpoints to a pluralistic society.8 Representing diversity in the news, however, is no longer just a question of ethics or enlightenment. A newspaper’s economic survival depends on it. A lack of diversity in news content was cited as one reason readers cancel their newspaper subscriptions.9 It has been argued, in fact, that the reason women and minorities cancel subscriptions in such high numbers is because their voice is not represented in the news.10
One way to approach the issue of diversity, then, is to analyze news content to determine the extent to which diversity is present. Although numerous studies have been undertaken to accomplish this very thing, most, if not all, have been conceptualized independent of input from the newspaper and its readers. Including the perceptions and concerns of the individuals who are directly involved with making and reading the newspaper will benefit scholars and practitioners and, ultimately, the readers themselves. Scholars will be better equipped to conceptualize more accurate and sophisticated studies, which can be fed directly to the news organization. Newspapers can then use this information to attempt fundamental changes in news process, editing and reporting. Ideally, the end result will be more diverse coverage that more accurately reflects the needs and concerns of the community the newspaper serves.
Using this approach, the current study was guided by input provided by Editor Cole Campbell and former readers of the Post-Dispatch. The primary goal was to determine the extent to which diversity was present in news stories and photos. Findings of this study were then fed back to the Post-Dispatch to attempt fundamental changes in news content. The data also served as a benchmark against which to track future content changes and provided a unique opportunity to connect the practical and theoretical domains.
In face of a steady loss of readers in the preceding five years, the Post– Dispatch held in-house focus groups with former readers in 1996 to determine why subscriptions were being canceled. Although the findings of the focus groups have not been made public, pertinent details were shared as a starting point for the current study. According to Campbell, former readers expressed a desire to see themselves and their viewpoints represented in news content not just the views of Caucasian men. In fact, most individuals indicated that they no longer read the newspaper because of a lack of diversity among sources. Former readers complained that there were too many official sources, such as politicians and business executives, and not enough viewpoints of ordinary people. Participants also said there were too many adults in the paper and expressed a need to see more children, adolescents and seniors.
Negative and biased content was also cited as a reason for subscription cancellation. The coverage of minorities was said to be uneven, unfair and biased. Of particular concern was the low presence and seemingly negative portrayal of African Americans. A liberal bias was said to be present among political stories. Participants also perceived that liberal political stories received prominent placement in the Front section, whereas conservative political stories were said to be either absent or buried in deeper sections of the paper. Although the Everyday and Sports sections were rated as favorites, participants said they avoided the Front and Business sections because they contained so many cynical or negative stories, involving conflict or blame.
How frequently are individuals of differing genders, ages and ethnicities represented in the photos and stories of the Post-Dispatch? Do news stories appear to be biased or unfair toward one ethnic group or another? In particular, are African Americans portrayed in a biased or negative manner?
To what extent are official sources – as compared to ordinary, everyday people – represented in the newspaper? Are source roles represented across a diversity of genders and ethnicities? In particular, do official sources tend to be Caucasian men?
To what extent do political stories favor a liberal over a conservative slant? Are liberal stories prominently placed and conservative stories buried?
Are news stories that appear in the Front and Business sections more negative than stories that appear in other sections of the newspaper, and how frequently are these stories framed in terms of conflict or blame?
Consistent with the literature, diversity was defined in terms of the variation of news content, sources and viewpoints. The more viewpoints that are represented in a news story, the more diversity is said to be present.11 Greater variety among sources’ gender, age, ethnicity and occupation also means greater diversity exists. This parallels definitions proposed by Paul Voakes and associates in 1996, and Phil jacklin in his 1978 article, Representative Diversity. 12
The literature reveals consistent patterns in newspaper content that have changed little over time. In general, Caucasian adult males have dominated print news for decades, leaving females, minorities, children, adolescents and seniors under- or misrepresented. Males have consistently outnumbered females by at least 2-to-1 in print photos13 and 4-to-1 in print news stories.14
Studies have found that females primarily are associated with stories pertaining to domestic issues, such as health, safety and social matters.” Males generally are used as sources for stories relevant to issues outside the home, like business, sports and politics. When official sources are used in news stories, they tend to be men.
A content analysis of the news photos of four Connecticut newspapers revealed that men were twice as likely as women to appear as politicians or public officials.17 The same study found that men were three times more likely than women to appear as professionals, and women were 2.5 times more likely than men to appear as ordinary people. Another study concluded that, regardless of story topic, “women were badly under-represented,” appearing as official sources only 10 percent of the time.18 The authors reported “a clear indication of the dominance of elite news sources,” with “heavy reliance” on male executives and male government officials.19
Caucasians have been found to consistently outnumber African Americans by at least 3-to-1 in news photos21 and 5-to-1 in news stories.21 Although their presence in news content is said to be increasing, stereotyping of African Americans appears to be increasing as well.22 African Americans are underrepresented in business and political news stories, and are overrepresented in stories about sports, entertainment and crime.23 Past studies have found that African Americans who do not fit the stereotypical roles of athletes, entertainers or criminals are largely ignored by the media.24 Studies also have found that African Americans are often portrayed as unsuccessful or substantially poorer than is really the case.25 These depictions are said to be negative, biased and unfair toward African Americans.
The same has been said of Latinos’ and Asian Americans,27 whose representation is also under- and misrepresented in news stories and photos. A recent content analysis of the Los Angeles Times found that Caucasians outnumbered Asian Americans 12-to-1 in news stories and 30-to-1 in news photos.28 The study also found that Latinos, who make up the majority in Los Angeles, were outnumbered by Caucasians 3-to-1 in news stories and 6-to-1 in news photos. Latinos and Asian Americans also were more likely than Caucasians to be associated with negative story topics, such as a crime or tragedy.
Content analyses that have examined age diversity in newspaper coverage have found the young and the aged to be disproportionately less present than their real-world numbers.29 A literature review of the portrayal of seniors in the media revealed that, of the 22 studies examined, 20 showed an underrepresentation of seniors relative to their U.S. population proportion.30 A content analysis of 10 metropolitan newspapers found that only 1.4 percent of the 2,073 stories examined were about seniors.31 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one of the papers among the sample, had the fewest stories devoted to seniors.
Studies that have examined children and adolescents have found their representation in the news disproportionately less than their national numbers.31 A content analysis of the Los Angeles Times found that, even though children and teens comprised about 28 percent of the nation’s population in 1998, they appeared less than 5 percent as sources and/or characters in news stories at that time.33 The authors reported that only one child and five adolescent Latinos, and no Asian American children or adolescents were found as sources or characters in the news stories sampled.
A growing body of research also has addressed the question of how the news media frame political events and issues in terms of ideology and conflict. Most studies on political ideology have focused on campaign coverage to determine if the media favor one view over another. In general, journalists are accused of framing stories with a liberal slant. Perhaps this is so because newsrooms consist of so many liberals.34 Nevertheless, there is still no empirical evidence to support the claim that biased, politically-motivated people are covering the news. Findings from past studies suggest that, overall, journalists tend to be even-handed when covering political events.31
The news media also are accused of using an adversarial frame when reporting on political or business events and issues. Perhaps this is so because a traditional approach to the news hinges on conflict. Studies have shown, for example, that politics are covered like a winlose sports event.36 Business stories also have been framed in terms of conflict and negativity, “overemphasizing stories of consumer fraud, unethical practices, shoddy products and so forth.”37 Such stories are said to be biased and unfair.
Studies that have examined the issue of fairness and balance typically have measured whether all sides to a conflict or issue are treated equally relative to one another.38 Until recently, the most common method used to measure balance in newspaper reporting, especially for political stories, was to measure the amount of space given to each side of the issue. Frederick Fico and Stan Soffin have argued that newspapers typically devote equal amounts of space to each side represented in a story, which leads to the conclusion that the newspaper provided balanced coverage.39 Fico and Soffin note that space-counting methods may not necessarily reflect day-to-day coverage of controversial stories. By using a more sophisticated measure of balance, Fico and Soffin found that 48 percent of news stories were one-sided in their presentation of the controversy, and only 7 percent of the stories were perfectly balanced.
More males than females will appear in news articles and photographs.
More females than males will be associated with stories that address domestic issues (e.g., health and safety), whereas more males than females will be associated with stories that address issues outside the home (e.g., political, sports and business).
More males than females will be used as official sources, such as political leaders or business executives, and more females than males will be portrayed as ordinary people.
More Caucasians than African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans will appear in news articles and photographs, and fewer Caucasians than African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans will be associated with a negative, or stereotyped, role or story topic.
Children, adolescents and seniors will appear less frequently in news articles and photographs than their real-world, St. Louis numbers.
Political news stories will show more neutrality than a conservative or liberal slant, and there will be more one-sided (i.e., imbalanced) than two- or multi-sided (i.e., balanced) political stories.
News about business and politics will be more likely than news about other topics to be framed in terms of conflict.
To test these hypotheses and the research questions mentioned earlier, a content analysis of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was conducted in August, 1997. Twenty-eight issues of the newspaper were randomly selected for the time period of April, 1996 to April, 1997. It was important to sample this time period because it marked the end of the five-year circulation decline and represented the beginning of Cole Campbell’s managerial post. From these 28 issues, the front two pages of each section were coded along with two additional pages, which were randomly selected after excluding full-page advertisements. Four pages were analyzed for each section of the paper, including all jumps. The final sample consisted of 637 news articles, 307 news photographs and 46 editorials.
Consistent with the objectives, this study examined the following variables: gender, ethnicity, age, role, section, topic, overall story tone, political ideology, balance, conflict and blame. The first four sources and first four characters who appeared in a news story, and all distinguishable individuals in news photos, were coded. A distinguishable individual was defined as “someone who plainly can be identified.” Blurred individuals, or individuals too small or too far in the background to be distinguished, were not coded. In many cases, one or more variables were easy to identify (e.g., gender and age), but others were not (e.g., ethnicity). In these cases, distinguishable variables were coded accordingly, and indistinguishable variables were coded as cannot tell.
Gender: Sources and characters were coded as male or female if gender was distinguishable. Visual and verbal cues were used to determine gender. Visual cues included physical features such as hair, body and face. In cases where individuals were indiscernible, or when no visual cue was present, the individual’s name was used as a cue to infer gender. Clear-cut names, like Susie, were coded for the appropriate gender, but questionable names, such as Pat or Sam, were coded as cannot tell unless a visual cue or direct mention of gender was available.
Ethnicity: Coders chose from six categories for ethnicity: African American, Asian American, Caucasian, Latino or Hispanic, Other American (e.g., Native American), and Non-Americans (i.e., internationals). Visual cues, such as skin tone, eyes, hair and facial features were used to determine ethnicity. In some cases, the ethnicity of a source or character was identified in the story itself. Individuals’ names also were used to infer ethnicity. For example, Wong implies the individual is of Asian descent, whereas Hernandez implies the individual is Latino.
Age: Consistent with the Missouri Department of Health 41 categories, four divisions were used for age: children (0-10), adolescents (11-19), adults (2059) and seniors (60+). The criteria used to determine an individual’s age included: the direct mention of age or a reference to age (e.g., retiree) in the cutline or news story, hair color (e.g., gray hair), facial features (e.g., wrinkling) or contextual cues (e.g., training wheels on a bike implies that the individual is a child, or a walking cane implies the individual is a senior).
Role: Coders chose from seven role choices: government official/politician, professional, celebrity/entertainer, athlete, ordinary person, perpetrator and other. Direct mention of the individual’s occupation was used as a criteria to determine his/her role. Visual cues, such as clothing (e.g., business suit), or contextual details (e.g., sitting in a court room in hand cuffs signifies), were also used to determine the person’s role. Individuals who had no obvious role, either visually or verbally, were coded as ordinary people.
Section: Seven categories were coded for newspaper section: Front (A), Metro/Local, Business, Everyday (i.e., Lifestyle), Opinion/Editorial, Sports and Other.
Topic: Coders chose from 11 topic categories: business, politics, social issues, sports, safety, human interest, crime/courts, tragedy, health, education and other. Story topic was determined by using a story’s headline and first four paragraphs as cues.
Overall story tone: A positive, negative or neutral category was coded for each story. This was determined by using the story topic, story outcome and/or story frame. Headlines were used as cues, but were not the sole determining factor for overall story tone. For example, stories about homicides, child abuse or natural disasters were typically, but not automatically, coded as negative. When the outcome or consequence in the story was reported as undesirable, the story was coded as negative. Desirable outcomes were coded as positive. When stories were framed in terms of dichotomies or conflicts, they also were typically, but not automatically, coded as negative. When stories were framed in approving or affirmative terms (e.g., judicious business dealings or responsible parenting), they were coded as positive. The key in making this choice was the overall tone – meaning, the most dominant tone. A neutral category was chosen when both, or neither, positive and negative tones were present.
Political ideology: Coders were given a checklist of traditional conservative and liberal viewpoints, compiled from George Lakoff’s article on metaphors.41 For example, a story was coded as conservative if it emphasized the death penalty, reducing government budgets, right-to-life, right to own guns, or the Strict Father Model for family values (e.g., mom’s place is in the home and the father sets the overall family policy).
The liberal’s checklist included points within a story about abortion rights, higher taxes for the rich, retraining offenders to live better lives, or supporting interest groups, such as ethnic groups, feminists, gays and environmentalists. The Nurturant Parent Model was used as a cue for stories about family values (e.g., parents should respect children and their relationship between the parents is equitable).
If both conservative and liberal viewpoints were equally represented in the same story, a neutral category was chosen. If either a conservative or liberal slant seemed to dominate the story, or when only one viewpoint was presented, then that political ideology was coded. If the political slant was not evident, a cannot tell code was chosen. Non-political stories were coded as not applicable.
Balance: Although every story was examined for balance, this variable generally applied to stories about a social or political issue or controversy. Balance was determined by counting the number of viewpoints, or sides, represented. The three pieces of information that were used to make this assessment were: the number of viewpoints expressed, the number of sources cited on each side of the issue and the number of direct and paraphrased quotes for each side. A balanced (i.e., two- or multi-sided) story contained multiple viewpoints and a nearly equal number of sources for each side of the issue. Balanced stories also allowed sources nearly equal say-so for each side of the issue. An unbalanced story reported only one side of the story or issue.
Conflict: G.A. Donohue, P.J. Tichenor and Clarice Olien’s definition of conflict was used: A process of interaction among social roles, based upon disparities in views or positions about ends, means, or means-ends relationships.42 A conflict was coded for news stories when the interests or ideas of sources or characters collided, or when one group (e.g., Democrats) was pitted against another (e.g., Republicans).
Blame: Blame was defined as finding fault with, or assigning responsibility to an individual, group of individuals, business or organization for a negative outcome. The study developed two blame frames: individual blame and business blame. Individual blame pertains to who is blamed, or who is assigned responsibility for the outcome of an event or issue. In the case where a business is blamed, no one individual is identified as being responsible for the outcome of an event or issue. Rather, the business or organization as a whole is blamed. For example, an oil spill may be blamed on an entire company (i.e., business blame) or the company president (i.e., individual blame). A school shooting may be blamed on the entire school system (i.e., business blame), the alleged perpetrator (i.e., individual blame) or the principal (i.e., individual blame).
Two undergraduate students (an African American male and a Caucasian female) and a professional journalist (Caucasian male) coded the photographs, and a doctoral student (Caucasian female) and professional journalist (Caucasian male) coded the news stories. An intercoder reliability was obtained by coding 10 percent of news stories (N=60), 10 percent of news photos (N=31), and 20 percent of news editorials (N=10). Using Scott’s pi index,43 intercoder reliabilities were taken at the beginning and end of the study. Satisfactory agreement was reached at both stages. Ending reliabilities for each variable included: gender (1.0), ethnicity (.95), age (.92), role (.93), section (1.0), topic (.98), overall story tone (.82), political ideology (.85), balance (.78), conflict (.85) and blame (.85).
Hypothesis 1 was supported. Males (79 percent) outnumbered females (21 percent) 4-to-1 in news stories. Males (72 percent) also outnumbered females (28 percent) 3-to-1 in news photos. Partial support was found for Hypothesis 2. Males were more likely than females to be associated with non-domestic stories, such as business (M-84 percent, F-16 percent), politics (M-91 percent, F-9 percent) and sports (M-89 percent, F-11 percent) (p
Support was found for the notion that the newspaper contains morE official sources than ordinary people (RQ2). The majority of sources and characters were professionals (42 percent) and politicians/ government officials (28 percent). Only 18 percent of the individuals who appeared in news stories were ordinary people.
As predicted by Hypothesis 3, females (74 percent) were more likely than males (26 percent) to appear as ordinary sources or characters in news stories. Females (65 percent) were almost twice as likely as males (35 percent) to appear as celebrities. Males were more likely than females to appear as athletes (M-77 percent, F-23 percent) and politicians (M-80 percent, F-20 percent), however, both genders were almost equally represented as professionals (M-52 percent, F-48 percent). All perpetrators were males. These results were significant (p
Caucasians outnumbered all other ethnicities in news photos and stories (HQ. Caucasians (69 percent) outnumbered African Americans (24 percent) 3-to-1 in news photos, and 5-to-1 in news stories. When combined, all other ethnicities were outnumbered by Caucasians 10-to-1 in news photos and 4-to-1 in news stories. Partial support was found for the notion that minorities are more likely than Caucasians to be associated with negative, or stereotyped, roles or story topics. For example, African Americans (43 percent) were more likely than Caucasians (29 percent) and other ethnicities (28 percent) to appear as athletes. Contrary to past studies, African Americans did not dominate the stereotypical roles of perpetrator or celebrity. African Americans were 1.5 times less likely than Caucasians to appear as perpetrators, and 1.1 times less likely to appear as celebrities. However, there was a higher proportion of professionals among other ethnicities (56 percent), and professional sources were more likely to be Caucasians (32 percent) than African Americans (12 percent). Ordinary people were almost equally represented across African Americans (32 percent), Caucasians (33 percent) and other ethnicities (35 percent). These findings were significant (p
As Table 1 illustrates, Caucasians were more likely than all other ethnicities to appear as sources in stories about business, politics, family, social issues, sports, safety and human interest (p
As predicted by Hypothesis 5, a lack of parity was found among children, adolescents and seniors, when compared to their St. Louis numbers. Adults comprised 79 percent of all sources and characters. This means adults outnumbered children 9-to-1, adolescents 10-to-1 and seniors 20-to-1. The age of individuals living in the St. Louis area breaks down as follows: adults (53 percent), children (21 percent), seniors (14 percent) and adolescents (12 percent). This means that, for the St. Louis area, adults outnumber children 2.5-to-1, adolescents 4-to-1 and seniors 4-to-1.
Hypothesis 6 addressed the issue of political fairness among reporters. As predicted, the majority of political stories generally were neutral (38 percent) and one-sided (64 percent). Less than half (36 percent) of political stories were balanced (i.e., two- or multi-sided). Liberal stories (37 percent) outnumbered conservative stories (25 percent) 1.5-to-1. There was also a higher representation of Democratic (12 percent) than Republican (7 percent) sources (p
Research Question 4 addressed the issue of story tone. There were more positive (40 percent) than negative (34 percent) or neutral (26 percent) stories. As noted by former readers, the Front and Business sections were more likely than other sections to contain negative stories. Only 22 percent of stories that appeared in the Front section were positive, 31 percent negative and 47 percent neutral. More than half (56 percent) of the stories that appeared in the Business section were negative, 26 percent were positive and 18 percent were neutral. The Metro section contained stories that were 35 percent positive, 42 percent neutral and 24 percent negative. The Everyday section was primarily positive (65 percent), with fewer (35 percent) negative and no neutral stories (p
Former readers believed that stories in the Front and Business section were generally about a conflict or assigning blame (RQ4). A blame frame was present in 22 percent of all news stories examined. An individual was blamed in 36 percent of these stories, and a business or organization was blamed 64 percent of the time. Stories that blamed businesses generally appeared in the Business section, but stories that blamed individuals appeared throughout all sections of the newspaper. Only 6 percent of news stories contained a conflict frame, and these generally pertained to political stories, thus only partially supporting Hypothesis 7.
Discussion and conclusions
The primary goal of this study was to determine the extent to which diversity was present in news photos and stories of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Comments expressed by former readers concerning issues of stereotyping and bias were used as a starting point. Results of this study strongly paralleled many of these concerns. For example, former readers believed that the viewpoints of women, minorities, children, adolescents and seniors were underrepresented in the Post-Dispatch, which is what the current study found. Caucasian, adult males dominated as sources and characters in news photos and stories throughout all sections of the newspaper. Not only does this finding represent a lack of diversity among source demographics, past studies have shown that a high reliance on male sources can alienate female readers.44 The same might be said of minority readers. Using Caucasian males as the authoritative voices in the newspaper, which the current study also found, might alienate minority and female readers as well. Comments from former readers of the Post-Dispatch seem to suggest this.
Although males outnumbered females as sources for all story topics, females primarily were associated with topics that have been stereotypically theirs in the past. These topics included safety, family life and social issues. Past studies have found that, although female readers prefer stories about health and relationships, they tend to share similar content interests with men.45 Newspapers that capitalize on this, by providing female viewpoints on every topic, might cultivate a larger and more loyal base of female readers. This could also be the case for business women who are turning to alternate, non-mainstream channels, for their business news.46
Consistent with past studies, African Americans primarily were depicted in news photos as athletes. Caucasian sources and characters, however, outnumbered African Americans in sports stories. Contrary to what the literature has shown, however, African Americans did not dominate the stereotyped roles of perpetrator or entertainer.
Contrary to past studies, this one found a high number of African American professionals and politicians. Perhaps this is so because African Americans comprise one-fourth of all professionals in the St. Louis workforce.47 In addition, African American Freeman Bosley, Jr. served as mayor during the time of this analysis. Future studies will need to track exactly who each source is so the data can be adjusted to account for frequent newsmakers. These findings also call into question the notion that stereotypical coverage of African Americans is increasing. Clearly, additional research is needed to better understand this phenomenon.
Children, adolescents and seniors were underrepresented in the pages of the Post-Dispatch when compared to their real-world numbers in St. Louis. Although parity was used as the standard of representation, this comparison calls into question just what the standard of representation should be. Clearly, readers recognized an underrepresentation of these age groups and, perhaps the representation of these groups in St. Louis served as a reference point. In any case, it seems likely that newspapers might want to consider the younger and elder generations as sources and characters if this audience is to be captured and held.
Insofar as content was concerned, former readers questioned just how much of the news was negative and biased, and framed in terms of conflict and blame. The study found that political stories were predominantly one-sided and liberal. Although liberal stories were prominently placed and conservative stories were buried, these results were not significant.
It is interesting to note, however, that readers appeared to recognize this complex pattern of news bias. News stories throughout the newspaper mostly were positive in tone. However, the Front and Business sections contained primarily negative stories. Former readers expressed these very concerns. Consequently, these findings beg the question about whether negative (versus positive) stories, and stories that appear in the front (versus later) sections of the newspaper, have a greater psychological impact. This line of inquiry could provide important information to newspaper practitioners, who can then attempt to change the presentation order and/or story tone to accommodate reader preferences 41
A blame frame was present in a fair number of news stories, especially in the Business section. Whether this coverage warranted use of such a frame is yet to be determined. Future analyses will certainly examine this issue more closely. A conflict frame was present in only a few stories, and these tended to be political in nature. It is known from the literature that frames influence the way people think about a news event or issue. Zhongdan Pan and Gerald Kosicki have found, for example, that frames tend to bias and constrain the way people use their knowledge in the interpretive process of the news 49 Perhaps this is why ethics has been cited as a reason to carefully consider which frame to use in reporting a news event or issue. Economics provide another reason to use care when selecting a story frame. Comments of former readers suggest that, not only do readers take note of story frames, they also might cancel subscriptions on the basis of such frames. Past studies have found that women tend to avoid negative news stories that emphasize conflict, and prefer news that has background, context and substance.50
Of course the connection between the cause (content problems) and effect (canceled subscriptions) is indirect at best. Additional studies will need to directly measure this relationship. In addition, newspaper subscriptions are canceled for reasons other than content. Having less leisure time is just one example. Last, it is possible that the concerns expressed by former readers of the Post-Dispatch are not representative, or even typical, of former readers as whole. The researchers were not privy to all of the details of the focus groups, beyond what was reported here. This point notwithstanding, the individuals who participated in the focus groups offered insightful comments that often paralleled findings.
In sum, if the media are to “fix” content problems, such as those reported here, then it seems logical that media practitioners should be made partners in this process. Findings can then be placed in the hands of individuals who are in the best position to initiate change. Having the input of current and former readers also provides a unique opportunity to connect newspapers to their readers and readers to their newspapers. Perhaps only then will the issue of diversity be fully understood.
1. John Consoli, The positive spin. Editor & Publisher, May 17, 1997, p. 6.
2. W. R. Simmons & Associates Research Inc., 1970-1977, Simmons Market Research Bureau Inc., 1980-1994, Scarborough Reports-Top 50 DMA Markets, 1995; http:// www.naa.org/info/facts.
3. Newspapers post strong 30 profits. Editor & Publisher, October 17, 1998, p. 16. 4. Melinda D. Hawley, Women readers and the Los Angeles Times. Assessment paper prepared for the Missouri School of Journalism, October 1998.
5. Circulation figures from Editor & Publisher’s International Yearbook were used to calculate a 16 percent decline for the years 1983 to 1996.
6. M. L. Stein, Accepting the single-copy buyer. Editor & Publisher, September 14,1996, pp. 18-19; John Consoli, Selling newspapers as commodities. Editor & Publisher, April 29, 1995, p. 11; for a discussion of civic journalism, see: Jay Rosen, Public journalism: First principles in Jay Rosen and Davis Merritt Jr., Public Journalism: Theory and Practice. Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation, 1994.
7. Maurine Beasley, Covering today’s woman: Mistreated by the media? Or not treated at all. American Journalism Review, May 1993, pp. Fl -7; Thomas I. Emerson, The system of freedom of expression. New York: Random House, 1970.
8. Kathleen A. Hansen, Source diversity and newspaper enterprise journalism. Journalism Quarterly, Fall 1991, pp. 474-482.
9. Philip Meyer, 20-year decline in newspaper readers triggers advent of market ethics. St. Louis Journalism Review, May 1992, pp. 14-15; Ronald Redfern, What readers want from newspapers. Advertising Age, January 23, 1995, p. 25; Stephen D. Isaacs, New York city’s disappearing newspaper readers. ASNE Bulletin, September 1992, pp. 16, 20.
10. M. D. Hawley and P. J. Kreshel, Women’s pages: Reconnecting with women readers. Paper presented at the Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium of the National Newspaper Association 11 2th Annual Convention, Fort Worth, 1997.
11. Paul S. Voakes, Jack Kapfer, David Kurpius and David Shano-Yeon Chern, Diversity in the news:A conceptual and methodological framework. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1996, pp. 582-593.
12 Voakes etaL, ibid., 1996; Phil Jacklin, Representative Diversity. Journal of Communication, Spring 1978, pp. 85-88. It should be noted that, although Jacklin disagreed with defining diversity in terms of numbers, he agreed with the idea that representative diversity ought to be an objective of the mass media. He stated that a democracy is impossible with it (p. 87).
13. Shelly Rodgers and Esther Thorson, The visual representation of individuals of different genders, ages and ethnicities in the photographs of the Los Angeles Times. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Visual Communication Division, New Orleans, 1999.
14. Susan H. Miller, The content of news photos: Women’s and men’s roles. Journalism Quarterly, 1975, pp. 70-75; Roy E. Blackwood, The content of news photos: Roles portrayed by men and women. Journalism Quarterly, 1983, pp. 710-714.
15. Blackwood, ibid., 1983; Marginalizing women: Front page coverage of female declines in 1996. St. Louis Journalism Review, 26,1996, pp. 5-7; M. Junior Bridge, Slipping from the scene: News coverage of females drops in S. Biagi and M. Kern– Foxworth, eds., Facing Differences: Race, Gender, and Mass Media. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, 1997, pp. 102-112.
16. Marginalizing, ibid., 1996; Bridge, ibid., 1996.
17. Barbara F. Luebke, Out of focus: Images of women and men in newspaper photographs. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 20,1989, pp. 121-132.
18. Jane Delano Brown, Carl R. Bybee, Stanley T. Wearden and Dulcie Murdock Straughan, Invisible power. Newspaper news sources and the limits of diversity. Journalism Quarterly, Spring 1987, pp. 45-54.
19. Delano et aL, ibid., 1987.
20. Paul M. Lester and Randy Miller, African American pictorial coverage in four U.S. newspapers. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Anaheim, 1996; R. M. Entman, Representation and reality in the portrayal of blacks on network TVnews. Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1994, pp. 509520.
21. Shelly Rodgers and Esther Thorson, Parity is possible: The diversity of news sources and characters in the Los Angeles Times. Working paper, October 1999; Carolyn Martindale, Changes in newspaper images of Black Americans. Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 1990, pp. 40-50; Tara-Nicholle Beasley DeLouth, Brigitte Pirson, Daryl Hitchcok and Beth Meenes Rienzi, Gender and ethnic role portrayals: Photographic images in three California newspapers. Psychological Reports, April 1995, pp. 493-94. 22. Lester and Miller, op. cit., 1996; Paul M. Lester and Ron Smith, Changes in newspaper images of Black Americans. National Review of Journalism, 1990, pp. 40-50.
23. Martindale, op, cit., 1990.
24. Lester and Miller, op. cit., 1996; Martindale, op. cit., 1990.
25. Martin Gilens, Race and poverty in America: Public misperceptions and the American news media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 1996, pp. 515-541; Richard M. Entman, Blacks in the News: Television, Modern Racism and Cultural Change. Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1992, pp. 341-361.
26. Rod Carveth and Diane Alverio, Network burnout: The portrayal of Latinos in network television news. NAHJ Newsletter, June 1996.
27. Shelly Rodgers and Doyle Yoon, (Under)exposed! Images of Asians and Asian Americans in news photographs. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Minorities and Communication Division, New Orleans, 1999.
28. Rodgers and Thorson, op. cit., 1999; Rodgers and Thorson, op. cit., working paper. 29. Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese, Mediating the message: Theories of influences on mass media content, 2nd edition. White Plains, New York: Longman Publishers USA, 1996; W. Gantz, H. M. Gartenberg and C. K. Rainbow, Approaching Invisibility: The Portrayal of the Elderly in Magazine Advertisements. Journal of Communication, 30,1980, pp. 56-60.
30. Latika Vasil and Hannelore Wass, Portrayal of the elderly in the media: A literature review and implications for educational gerontology. Educational Gerontology, 19, 1993, pp. 71-85.
31. E. Joseph Broussard, C. Robert Blackmon, David L. Blackwell, David W. Smith and Sarah Hunt, News of aged and aging in 10 metropolitan dailies. Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1980, pp. 324-327.
32. S. Bramlett-Solomon and G. Subramanian, What’s wrong with these pictures? Images of the elderly in Life and Ebony magazine ads, 1990-1997. Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Magazine Division, Baltimore, 1998; Cary Silvers, Smashing old stereotypes of 50-plus America. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 14,1997, pp. 303-309.
33. Rodgers and Thorson, op. cit., 1999; Rodgers and Thorson, op. cit., working paper. 34. Iyengar Shanto, Is anyone responsible: How television frames political issues. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, p. 11; Bob Schulman, The liberal tilt of our newsrooms. Bulletin of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 654, 1982, pp. 3-7; Thomas E. Patterson and Wolfgang Donsbach, News decisions: Journalists as partisan actors. Political Communication, October-December, 1996, pp. 455-468. 35. Suraj Kapoor and Jong G. Kang, Political diversity is alive among publishers and opinion page editors. Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1993, pp. 404-411; Everette E. Dennis, Liberal reporters, yes! Liberal slant, no! American Editor, January 1997, pp. 49.
36. Michael Karlberg, News and conflict. Alternatives Journal, Winter 1997, pp. 22-27. 37. Robert A. Peterson, George Kozmetsky and Isabella C. M. Cunningham, Perceptions of media bias toward business. Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1982, p. 461-464.
38. Frederick Fico and William Cote, Fairness and balance in election reporting: The 1994 governor’s race in Michigan. Newspaper Research Journal, Summer/Fall 1997, pp. 5063.
39. Frederick Fico and Stan Soffin, Fairness and balance of selected newspaper coverage of controversial national, state, and local issues. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1995, pp. 621-33.
40. Statistics from the Missouri Department of Health were used so that a comparison could be made between children, adolescents and seniors who appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and those living in the St. Louis area.
41. George Lakoff, Metaphor, morality, and politics, or, why conservatives have left liberals in the dust Social Research, Summer 1995, pp. 177-213.
42. G. A. Donohue, P. J. Tichenor and C. N. Olien, Mass media functions, knowledge and social control. Journalism Quarterly, Winter 1973, pp. 652-59.
43. W. Scott, Reliability and content analysis: The case of nominal scale coding. Public Opinion Quarterly, 17, pp. 133-39.
44. Hawley and Kreshel, op. cit., 1997. 45. Hawley, op. cit., 1998.
46. Bridge, op. cit., 1996.
47.1990 Census of population, social and economic characteristics for Missouri. U.S. Department of Census, 1993, Table #185, p. 641.
48. We are not suggesting that stories that are naturally negative in tone, such as a death or natural disaster, be re-written with a positive slant. We are merely suggesting that,
readers might choose not to read a newspaper because negative stories that are prominently placed serve as a turn off.
49. Zhongdang Pan and Gerald M. Kosicki, Framing analysis: An approach to news discourse. Political Communication, January, 1993, pp. 55-75.
50. Hawley, op. cit., 1998.
Rodgers is assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Thorson is associate dean of graduate studies at the School of Journalism, University of Missouri-Columbia. Antecol is a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention at Stanford University in California.
Copyright Newspaper Research Journal, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis Summer 2000
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