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Successful Joint Venture or out of Control? Framing Europe on French and Dutch Websites
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 18 Number 1, 2008

Framed By Blogs: Toward a Theory of Frame Sponsorship and Reinforcement Through the Blogosphere

Sonora Jha
Seattle University

Abstract: The emergence of an overwhelming blogosphere in recent years calls for the development of framing theory along new tracks. This paper suggests avenues for such theory building and areas for empirical research, particularly in the less explored domain of the impact of blogs and blog readers/comment threads as frame sponsors. Further, given the complex, nebulous relationships between traditional media and new media (blogs), this paper focuses on the framing and re-framing dynamics between these key frame-setters. Reaching back into the work of some significant framing theorists, this paper suggests new pathways to study framing by blogs as narrative texts, schematized indicators and, indeed, a reinforcement of the frames of traditional media.

When students at Virginia Tech set up their own news and information networks over Facebook within hours of the shooting on April 16, 2007, the blogs on this social networking site drew not only the University community and readers across the world, but also the mainstream media (MSM). Major networks and newspapers used the blogs as a source, often quoting directly from them, telecasting blog pages on the news, and charting and reflecting the news and moods on the blogs.

Emerging cases such as the one above represent a significant break away from the traditional norms of news sourcing and framing, particularly given MSM journalists’ apprehensions over the credibility of online media. In particular, these developments herald the need to re-examine the cognitive and schematic reception of blog frames by MSM journalists. To go a step further, such interactivity also demands the analysis of the frames prevalent on blogs, particularly to examine whether or not these are reiterations and reinforcements of frames developed by traditional media.

This theoretical integration article proposes the development of framing theory and empirical analysis in multiple areas within the context of the new media environment. Given that the new media environment itself is awash in multiple forms of social media, this article seeks to maintain coherence by discussing such theory development within the realm of blogs that emerge around a news story. Within this, too, it is important to note that the call to develop framing theory in the directions suggested in this article is driven by the very fact that news blogs today are likely to interact with actors who previously were less influential on framing a news story. In the case of Virginia Tech, for instance, news blogs were likely impacted by the very different frames set up on, say, community blogs, health blogs, or blogs by gun control groups or pro-arms activists.

On one track, theory building and empirical analysis is inevitable, as scholars must sustain an ongoing research agenda into issue generation and political communication within the immediacy of today’s news landscape. To take just one emerging example, for the U. S. Presidential elections in 2008, we need to study what impact blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Youtube and other new, democratized media may have on, say, the frames of MSM journalists themselves. In their process of framing stories, how will journalists receive, construct and activate the political schema (D’Angelo, Calderone & Territola, 2005; Graber, 1988; Mandler, 1984; Neuman, Just & Crigler, 1992) they are exposed to while interacting with these new media? Further, as blogs change the political communication culture, how will this be reflected in candidates’ press and publicity frames (Esser & D’Angelo, 2003)?

On another track, a re-examination of the origins and character of framing theory itself will provide newer avenues for a compelling research agenda in the new media age. The father of framing theory, Erving Goffman (1974), for instance, examined the process of framing as a circuitous one, in which both reporters and readers are actors in the production of the framed story.

Blogs as Frame Sponsors

A substantial body of research presents the many criticisms of what happens when MSM journalists use certain frames. Reese (2001) points out that the audience-centered, social-psychological approach to framing demonstrates that how a social problem is cast makes a big difference in how one responds to it. Examining framing within the concept of group-centricism in American public opinion, Nelson and Kinder (1996) believe that, invented by elites and carried by mainstream media, frames influence public opinion by circumscribing the considerations citizens take seriously.

Iyengar (1991) is concerned about the absence of ideological constraint or consistency in American public opinion. Iyengar (1991) has also suggested that exposure to episodic news (event-based coverage rather than contextualized coverage) makes viewers less likely to hold public officials accountable for the existence of some problem and also less likely to hold them responsible for alleviating it.

Research has been advanced, also, on the limits to framing effects (Scheufele, 1999; Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007) and to who can frame, with experiments that suggest that people rely on the credibility of the source and that elites face a clear and systematic constraint to using frames to influence and manipulate public opinion (Reese, 2001). This ties in with Entman's (1993) suggestion that political elites control the framing of issues.

However, the range of frame sponsors who exert influence on the journalist has thus far been somewhat limited. Ryan, Carragee and Meinhofer (2001), while stressing that journalistic frames do not develop in a political or cultural vacuum, concentrate their classification of frame sponsors amongst corporate and political elites, advocates, and social movements. News stories, the authors point out, become a forum for framing contests in which these actors compete in sponsoring their definitions of political issues. The authors believe that the ability of a frame to dominate news discourse depends on multiple complex factors, including its sponsor's economic and cultural resources, its sponsor's knowledge of journalistic practices, and its resonance with broader political values or tendencies in American culture. Other researchers have pointed out that MSM journalism practice allows for political and economic elites as frame sponsors (W. A. Gamson, 1989).

As a result of scholarship being focused on this limited repertoire of frame sponsors, readers and audiences have been largely excluded as possible, powerful frame sponsors. Today, the emergence of blogs as a MSM journalist’s virtual Rolodex of sorts makes such a limitation a glaring error. Scholars have suggested that blogs promote new genres of news in the 21st century (Deuze, 2003; Lasica, 2002; Wall 2005). As MSM journalists’ acceptance of blogs on everything from war to neighborhood community centers turns increasingly commonplace, these journalists have learned newer grids of storytelling from the bottom up rather than top down (Bowman and Willis, 2003; Deuze, 2003; Gillmor, 2004; Pavlik, 2000; Rosen, 1999).

Recent discussions on the framing of U.S. Presidential politics and the war have provided a strong case for examining press framing and public opinion, as well as comparisons of MSM frames and blog frames. Kuypers’s (2006) study contrasts the frames in mainstream press reports of public speeches by President Bush and the frames within the text of the actual speeches themselves. The study found that the press often excluded oppositional information that contradicted its preferred framing of certain issues. Kuypers points out that while those Americans that had a first-hand exposure to the Bush administration’s frames had a firmer understanding of the War on Terror, the press deliberately denied the President the opportunity to develop a metanarrative of this war, which led to the public being exposed merely to “a fractured and confused perception concerning the meaning of a War on Terror” (p. 152).

Other studies have found that the mainstream media have followed President Bush’s framing on homeland security and the war on terror ever since Sept. 11, 2001 (Coe, Domke, Graham, John & Pickard 2004; Domke, 2004; Entman, 2003; Hutcheson, Domke, Billeaudeaux & Garland, 2004; Ivie, 2004; John, Domke, Coe & Graham, 2007; Kellner, 2004; Rich, 2006; Silberstein, 2002). Kumar (2006) found that audiences, then, sought out alternative sources of information. Citing a New York Times report (Klam, 2004), Kumar points out that during the first half of 2004, partisan blogs, especially left wing blogs, experienced a surge in traffic.

Another study (Schiffer, 2006), on the impact on MSM journalists of political communication directed at them through blogs, reveals how activists brought the Downing Street Memo controversy in 2005 into mainstream news coverage. The author found that progressive political blogs such as Daily Kos launched a blitzkrieg and pushed an ignored story into the public sphere, with greater success in op-ed analyses by MSM journalists than in news reports, which continued to rely on official sources and on what Iyengar (1991) has called episodic versus thematic frames.

Hewitt (2005) argues that these blogs are seen as personal, surveillance media and are gaining trust as MSM lose trust. Blogswarms – opinion storms that brew over blogs – often fundamentally alter readers’ views on people and issues, Hewitt argues, citing the case of Senator John Kerry’s discrepancy about his presence in Cambodia in 1968, and Dan Rather’s resignation from 60 Minutes after he used forged memos as proof of President Bush’s negligent military services. Blogswarms, Hewitt points out, had a piling on effect as they pointed out facts that MSM journalists had passed over.

The growing necessity to include studies of blogs as frame sponsors, then, becomes particularly pertinent when we examine Goffman's early analysis of how the reversibility of the reporting-occurrences loop plays out and who, therefore, frames whom:

There is a greater issue concerning reversibility … the detailed reporting of a crime may lead to further crimes modeled after the report. But also this sort of circularity may be imagined or presumably occurs, we seem to have a strong feeling that reportings and documentation ought not to be the cause of the actual event they record; the causality should all be in the other direction. We have charity balls so that next day the news coverage will appear, the coverage and not the ball serving to advertise the charity. And, of course, when a minor social occasion is graced by an important political speaker, the transcription given out to the major news media is likely to be the reason for the original performance, not merely its consequence. (p. 41)

So, it is not just the terrorist or school shooter who knows what the next day's news will look like (with the frames of horror, devastation and massacre) but also the citizen or student who participates in a candlelight tribute, or, increasingly, puts breaking news, tributes and tirades on their blog. In such cases, it becomes especially difficult to determine who exactly chooses, determines or adopts a frame and, albeit in a more direct way, who is or isn't, today, a frame sponsor.

However, even as we study the impact of blog frames on traditional journalists, we must also be cognizant of the fact that these bloggers are frame receivers themselves. So, bloggers, just like journalists, are likely to conceptualize as well as write their blogs using traditional frames.

News, the Narrative Imperative and Blogging

For one, Goffman (1974) suggests, the act of framing and actual frames may be impacted by the narrative imperative of news reporting. I would extend this to our understanding not only of traditional media but also of new media such as blogs. Scholars of new media, for instance, have argued that the Internet is more likely to reinforce rather than reverse established patterns of political communication (Bimber, 1999; Norris, 2001). This perspective is further informed by the understanding of framing and related theories and models across disciplines that seem to indicate that framing and frames are determined by the rules and traditions of story-telling. The reiteration of established, traditional frames in the discourse prevalent on blogs may be rooted, once again, in the narrative imperative on which reporters and their audiences have relied for generations.

For his analysis, Goffman used anecdotes cited from the press and biographical books in the popular genre. The use of these merits analysis for how it informs our understanding of news as narrative discourse and because there is much in common in the way Goffman's selected textual forms and today’s blogs order our organization of experience:

Consider now dramatic scriptings. Include all strips of depicted personal experience made available for vicarious participation to an audience or readership, especially the standard productions offered commercially to the public through the medium of television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and the legitimate (live) stage. This corpus of transcriptions is of special interest, not merely because of its social importance in our recreational life, or, as already suggested, because of the availability of so much explicit analysis of these materials, or because the materials themselves are easily accessible for purposes of close study; their deepest significance is that they provide a mock-up of everyday life, a put-together script of unscripted social doings, and thus are a source of broad hints concerning the structure of this domain. (p. 53)

Goffman’s analysis would seem to apply to the blogs of the 21st century. Understanding the narrative transcriptions of bloggers as frame sponsors and as reinforcing MSM journalists’ frames is facilitated by the examination of how (1) MSM journalists and (2) bloggers believe themselves to be storytellers.

Many journalists come to the profession inspired by their urge to write. Even those reporters who cover daily politics often see their subjects as characters and their text as the unfolding of a story. In the words of one such reporter, “It is easier and faster to build a coherent story with a small cast of characters. The House of Representatives is too much like War and Peace; the Senate is more on the scale of Crime and Punishment” (Hess, 1988, p. 91).

In his examination of the sociology of news writing, Darnton (1975) found that a strong element in shaping the news is the existence of cultural determinants. Cultural cues, he says, remain the same from the time of Mother Goose. Many years after his research as a participant-observer in a pressroom at a police headquarters in Newark, while researching popular culture in early modern France and England, Darnton came across tales that bore a common motif - English chapbooks, broadside ballads, and penny dreadfuls, French canards, images d'Epinal, and the bibliotheque bleue, as well as children's literature. He found that these bore a striking resemblance to the news stories he had written as a Newark reporter. He said:

It would be misleading, however, to conceive of cultural diffusion exclusively as a 'trickle-down' process, for currents move up from the common people as well as down from the elite. The Tales of Perrault, The Magic Flute by Mozart, and Courbet's Burial at Omans, illustrate the dialectical play between 'high' and 'low' culture in three genres during three centuries. Of course we did not suspect that cultural determinants were shaping the way we wrote about crimes in Newark, but we did not sit down at our typewriters with our mind a tabula rasa. Because of our tendency to see events rather than long-term processes, we were blind to the archaic element in journalism. But our very conception of 'news' resulted from ancient ways of telling 'stories.' (p. 176)

This structuring of news stories based on the tales in reporters’ heads raises the argument that frames have, in some ways, already been constructed and are merely assembled by the time it comes to the presentation of news. Eight decades ago, Walter Lippmann (1922) understood the process of newspaper reporting to be the filling out of an established repertory of stereotypes with current news. Another classic study of news practices by Epstein (1973) involving interviews with journalists confirmed the existence of established storylines. Epstein quotes an NBC commentator on the "limited number of plots" in network news – “Black versus White," "War is hell," "America is falling apart," "Man against the elements," "the Generation Gap," etc. A comparison of these plots with media frames would establish the symbiotic relationship between narrative and frame. For instance, an analysis of framing in news discourse has arrived at four dominant structures: syntactical, script, thematic and rhetorical (Pan & Kosicki, 1993).

Gamson and Modigliani (1989) measured framing devices - metaphors, exemplars, catchphrases, depictions and visual images, all of which, they pointed out, owe their origin to narrative texts. Tuchman (1978), in her examination of news as frame, pointed out that her approach to news classifies it with other stories and assumes that stories are the product of cultural resources and active negotiations, that are then passed on and commented upon. This analysis, too, would extend to blogs. In fact, the mandate of blog activity as telling a cultural story without the biases and restraints of corporate controlled media, and using the interactive devices such as threads of comments from blog readers, make them ripe for the study of storytelling frames, similar to those in traditional media.

Altheide and Michalowski (1999) cite Iyengar's (1991) conception of journalists using frames to tell a story that the audience can recognize, stories that they have probably heard before, and, moreover, to get specific information from sources that can be tied to this. Journalists, then, likely adopt a process of framing and reframing of these elements in their use of blogs as sources and frame sponsors.

Wall (2004) has used the economic metaphor of a black market economy to describe blogs’ relationship to journalism. In her examination of three case studies of current events/news bloggers operating during the U.S. – Iraq war in the spring of 2003, Wall found that formal journalism (MSM journalists) may be influenced by informal practices of bloggers, such as the adoption of an informal, first-person blog voice.

How blogs cover breaking news provides a significant insight into the use, by bloggers, of the very frames that characterize mainstream media coverage. After the events of September 11, 2001, a blogger stated, “It’s (blogging) a modern way of a survivor of disaster declaring, ‘I’m still alive; look at this website. I got out.’” (Hu, 2001).

However, what these discussions indicate is that, at least when it comes to breaking news, blogs, too, appear to rely on traditional frames. So, just like the blogging activity after September 11, 2001, the blogs on Facebook titled “I’m OK at VT” after the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, too, were structured along established MSM frames of eyewitnessing and survival. It is little wonder, then, that reportage on web sites and blogs has been referred to as personal journalism (Allan, 2002) or folk journalism (Mortensen and Walker, 2002), and the practitioners as amateur newsies, (Lasica, 2003). According to Blood (2002) a case can be made for the filter-style blogger as news editor, and some blogs as directly analogous to the opinion or analysis piece in traditional journalism, their authors emulating professional columnists.

Deuze (2003) believes that in the emerging new media environment, especially given the declining readership of news except on web portals, MSM journalism must find ways to re-engage with their readers as fellow citizens. He critiques the framing of media users as audiences, arguing that MSM are no longer playing the roles of informing, persuading, entertaining and enlightening an anonymous, mass audience. Media users, today, are partners and conversationalists in the mediated message, and MSM need to reconstruct their relationship in this vein. He extends this argument further, urging MSM to train themselves to think of stories as co-created with their media users, and storytelling as a participatory experience.

Preliminary, anecdotal accounts by journalist-bloggers indicate that blogging may, in fact, be serving to give free rein to the narrative impulse that MSM journalists have thus far eschewed in deference to the professional norms of objectivity. Lasica’s (2002) interview with MSM journalists who blog reveals an enthusiasm for doing away with the editorial process of MSM that leads to prose being “limp, lifeless, sterile and homogenized,” (p. 1). MSM journalist-bloggers embraced blogs’ power to be “impressionistic, telegraphic, raw, honest, individualistic, highly opinionated and passionate, often striking an emotional chord” and blogs “unearth the strange, the quirky, the interesting nugget….” (p.1).

Blevins (2007) believes that the study of blogging may in fact be an opportunity to “rethink the relationship between ‘story and discourse’ narrative content and mediated expression in the study of personal identity. While Blevins’s analysis is focused generally on personal blogging, recent anecdotal accounts by MSM journalists who have taken up blogging reveal these journalists’ appreciation of this medium as permitting an informal voice, less editorial interference and the freedom to explore non-journalisitc language and composition (Niles, 2006; Scanlan, 2006)

The question that these observations on blog activity raise is: Does this informal, personalized voice then assume and probably intensify a narrative style, a storytelling imperative? For instance, is the voice of the op-ed-style blogger developed as the voice of what creative fiction writers refer to as the omniscient narrator?

News, Frames and Schemas

Examining aspects of schema theory that emerge from social and cognitive psychology, Mandler (1984) has pointed out that schemas are often described as sets of expectations and people form a schema for stories with expectations of how they will proceed. We may relate these to news stories and the schematized expectations of the five W's and one H of a news story, and with the inverted pyramid form of news storytelling. Entman (1993) points out that communicators make conscious or unconscious decisions in deciding what to say, guided by frames (often called schemata or schemas) that organize their belief systems.

The schema is used to form an organized representation of the content of the story. Getting deeper into examining the psychological validity of a story schema through experiments in recall, researchers have consistently found that stories having all the prescribed elements in their correct sequence had resulted in better recall than stories that had their sequence and elements scrambled up, even when toddlers were doing the unscrambling. Furthermore, participants are more likely to recall the central material (or the gist) from story constituents than elaborations on these units (Black & Bower, 1977; Mandler & Johnson, 1977; Omanson, 1982; Stein & Glenn, 1979).

Mandler (1984) also points out that one aspect of the schematic processing of knowledge by people is that atypical events are usually better recognized - and under some circumstances better recalled - than typical ones. Some of the above observations seem to play out in the way news stories are framed in either episodic or thematic frames, that is (Iyengar, 1991). Research ought, therefore, to also stress on the role schemas play in shaping the structure of news apart from examining the reception, interpretation and understanding of news, which is the end at which current work in applying schema theory to mass communication is located. Such research draws upon the fact that schema theory posits that people are guided in their perceptions by their cognitive structures - referred to as schemas. They use schemas to construct meaning out of the multitude of stimuli and messages they receive. Schemas help people to classify incoming information and messages, a lot of it through previous experience and expectations - there are anticipatory schema composed of the individual's own life histories, social interactions, and psychological predispositions to the process of constructing meaning (Grimes, 1990; Thorndyke & Yekovich, 1980).

However, what is most significant in the interplay between schemas and frames is evident from the way people experience the world through their schemas, assuming or imposing structure upon it (Mandler, 1984; Conover & Feldman, 1984). There has been little direct inquiry, however, into the question that necessarily flows from the above research: in imposing structure upon the world, what are the schemas that the public imposes on news texts?

This particular gap in research can be attributed to the tendency of political scientists, sociologists and mass communication researchers to focus on priming and accessibility effects of news framing by journalists onto their receiving public (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987; Jacobs & Shapiro, 1994). As Fiske and Taylor (1991) point out, a common feature of these otherwise diverse analyses is a portrait of the individual as a limited-capacity information-processor. Framing the framing debate in normative controversies and effects research has tended to prevent inquiry from progressing into analyses of the roots of framing, which could then shed light on ways that could allow media practitioners to work outside the frame. Which, then, brings us to the frames sponsored by blogs – what, then, are the schemas that bloggers, public and MSM journalists negotiate?

The much-cited Kahneman and Tversky (2000) experiments have provided a riveting example of readers' different perceptions of the same problem framed differently. If frames are, in fact, to be increasingly negotiated between these different groups, how, then, may we expect differing perceptions in the public?

However, it might be a mistake to extrapolate these immediate interactions to a larger public opinion argument without a deeper understanding of the origins or simultaneous manufacture and assembly of frames. In other words, even scholars who do not feel comfortable with the magic bullet conceptions of media effects themselves move merely one step forward by examining the simultaneity and multiplicity of encoding-decoding processes or dissemination-reception processes. Social constructivism of the media, for instance, places the weight of the origin of the communication loop on the mass media, with readers and viewers merely processing and interpreting the received message according to their pre-existing meaning structures and schemas (Roshco, 1975; Tuchman, 1978; Gans, 1979; Schudson, 1978).

Audience frames and individual frames, too, have been laid out by these scholars within the grid of processing and cognitive devices. Stephen Reese (2001) points out that the acceptance and sharing of a media frame depends on what understandings the reader brings to the texts to produce negotiated meaning. This paper, however, advances the idea that a more fundamental question to ask would be: What understandings does the reader expect from the texts, to be able to produce negotiated meaning?

Some indications in this direction have been provided within other contexts. In examining public opinion on nuclear power, for instance, Gamson and Modigliani (1989) believe that public opinion on issues can be understood by rooting it in an issue culture that is reflected (emphasis added by author) and shaped by general audience media. Describing the process of framing in MSM journalists' minds and work, these authors say that while these journalists may draw their ideas and language from any or all of the other forums, frequently paraphrasing or quoting their sources, they are involved in a parallel process of contributing their own frames, inventing their own clever catchphrases, drawing on a popular culture that they share with their audience. Gitlin (1980) makes similar observations on the influences that act upon MSM journalists as running parallel to those that these journalists themselves exert. He points out that media frames, largely unspoken and unacknowledged, organize the world both for journalists who report it and, in some important degree, for us who rely on their reports. To provoke research into the priming of MSM journalists, however, will require a deeper analysis of MSM journalists as impressionable social actors rather than as proactive professionals. Similarly, one may extend this inquiry into the priming of bloggers by MSM journalists on the one hand, and a collective, negotiated meaning making of the world on the other.

If we extend the dramaturgical perspective advanced by Goffman, in which various actors are involved in performances in varied settings for different audiences in order to shape their definition of a situation, it becomes easier to imagine the MSM journalist/blogger as not just an encoder but a decoder of frames. In other words, like the MSM journalist/blogger and their story, all of us are using dramaturgical techniques - framing, scripting, staging and performing - to interact with others. This perspective has been applied and examined across disciplines. For instance, Gardner and Avolio (1998) present a model of how this is used between leaders and their followers. If we use this perspective to re-view how politicians are framed and received by the media and audiences respectively, we might arrive at a better understanding of MSM journalists and bloggers as not shaping but standing somewhere in between, as the drama between politicians and the public plays out.

In the context of social movements, where considerable framing research has been concentrated, Gamson and Meyer (1996) point out that while frames are part of the world, passive and structured, people are active in constructing them, thereby making the framing process vulnerable. A similar understanding of news as a negotiated enterprise is provided by Tuchman (1978), in her discussion of how the framing of news is similar to the framing of a simple conversation - we select and exclude items on the basis of whether they are pertinent to both speaker and listener in order to be judged newsworthy. This becomes particularly pertinent when we consider the construction of blogs being closer to conversations than, in fact, news.

Cooper’s (2006) study of critical blogging about news products created by MSM journalists examines the processes by which this particular category of bloggers provides its own frames by (a) disputing MSM frames, (b) reframing a set of facts, and (c) contextualizing the coverage of MSM journalists by providing additional facts they consider relevant to a story. The author discusses the blog posts on and Buzz Machine, for instance, pointing out how the authors of these blogs drew readers’ attention with the use of emphasis and amplification, sardonic humor, anecdotal examples that supported their reframing, as well as posing direct, pressing questions to the blogs’ readers. The blogosphere, Cooper concludes, “would seem to be the near perfect instantiation of the ideal discourse” (p. 303).

The Impact of MSM Framing on Bloggers

This permeability of the framing process becomes more compounded in a mass-mediated society such as America, where readers and audiences are picking and lending cues not just from news (Iyengar and Kinder, 1987) and entertainment (Postman, 1985; J. Gamson, 1994) but also from other dominant media forms such as advertising (Goldman & Papson, 1998). Moreover, as news becomes more entertainment focused, the line between popular culture and news media begins to blur, as evidenced on the phenomenal success of Youtube. The frames we construct to read/view these, then, become increasingly similar. Altheide and Michalowski (1999), for instance, have shown that one such frame - fear-pervades popular culture and the news media. These scholars suggest the notion of a problem frame, which, they say, is an important innovation to satisfy the entertainment dimension of news. It is one solution to the practical problem of how to make real problems seem interesting; this may often need the production of news reports compatible with entertainment formats. The authors also describe the problem frame as being a secular alternative to the morality play, with characteristics that include narrative structure, universal moral meanings, specific time and place, and an unambiguous focus on disorder that is culturally resonant.

One way to examine how bloggers may in fact be deploying their frames and frame-sourcing activity in a manner similar to the way journalists do would be to note the parallels between the framing processes in an instance where no clear frame seems within grasp. Frank Durham (1998), in analyzing the case of the coverage of the TWA Flight 800 plane crash, speaks of it as an event that defied framing, and, indeed, escaped the discipline of framing, causing the media to speculate about the cause of the catastrophe.

Such speculation can be both the strength and the weakness of blogs. It can be argued that speculation itself is a framing technique, a fundamental social process of meaning-making. I extend Durham's analysis of speculation to a comparison with gossip, which is another description leveled at blogs and bloggers. Chris Wickham (1998), in an analysis of gossip and resistance amongst the medieval peasantry, speaks of how local knowledge of any given event was made up of three elements - direct witnessing (per visum); hearing about it from someone (per auditum) and what everyone knew, or, common knowledge (publica lama). Even direct witnessing, Wickham points out, relied for its context on common knowledge concerning what the events were all about.

I find a direct link here to Goffman's idea of framing as an organization of experience -- the content and the stories embedded in gossip indicate how the group socially constructs the world outside as meaningful. Wickham also elaborates: "... indeed, gossip is at its most effective when it is exact, and, even when it is not, it is true to the attitudes of a given social group, that is to say it is meaningful to them" (p. 49). Speculation, gossip, news and perspective on even the most user-specific blogs, then, are no less governed by a public’s negotiated frames of the day than news.

A recent study that speaks to blog frames similar to gossip found that consumers of blogs, similar to consumers of grocery store tabloids, were more likely to believe conspiracy theories surrounding the events of 9/11 (Stempel, Hargrove & Stempel, 2007). Similarly, Haas (2005) points out that blogs often not only cover the same topics as mainstream news media, but even rely on them for information on those topics, conducting very little original reporting of their own. In this way, blogs may actually be strengthening the influence of MSM, Haas argues.

Such findings lend skepticism and a note of caution to those who believe in the power of blogs to circumvent MSM framing. For one, few studies have looked at the impact of comment threads on blogs, posted by readers, often anonymously. To what extent do these comments emerge from within the frames constructed by MSM journalists in their audiences? To what extent do interested parties post comments to provide challenges to blog authors’ own posts? After all, comments are usually posted by readers who either strongly agree or strongly disagree with the blog authors’ posts. Most important, to what extent do these comments change the content and nature of the discussion on blogs, thereby changing the frames?

Once it is established that seeking frames is what a social group must do, the next task is to make the leap to including journalists to some extent within our understanding of this social group. While much work has been done on the sociology of news reporting with regard to the reporters' milieu within the news organization, more research is needed into journalists' informal interactions with their audience (readers/viewers/listeners), including with the human subjects they interact with during their day-to-day coverage and their perceptions, thereby, of what people look for in news coverage.

Tuchman (1978), for one, admits that her analysis of the media's construction of reality is based on newspeople as professionals and does not consider news-workers as individuals with personal concerns and biases. Journalists say their story-ideas come from many places - parties, conversations, their own children ... even ideas on how to relate these stories, that is, how to frame them (Darnton, 1975). Tuchman (1978), in fact, touches on this phenomenon when she mentions how journalists operate by their common sense. As this common sense begins to be at least partly guided by blog activity, newer dimensions will be added to the social construction of news.

The last significant study to examine how journalists are affected by what they believe their readers' frames and schemas to be was conducted by Ithiel de Sola Pool and Irwin Shulman (1959) in which they asked newspersons -- and, later, journalism students -- to draw mental pictures of their public through a process of free association. They found through these experiments that the participants reported good news more accurately than they reported bad news when they thought the reader was supportive and vice versa when they thought the reader was critical. The journalists were framing their stories by pre-empting audience readiness and response.

To contextualize such framing by bloggers, we may look at what happens in an alternative news organization, where journalists ostensibly have a different conception of their work and their audience. Nina Eliasoph (1988), in a participant-observation study of what she refers to as an oppositional radio station, notes that even the audience for this oppositional news preferred a diet of news rather than analytical pieces. The audience of this kind of news (which, we would imagine, departed from dominant frames) found it difficult to interpret news told in the format of scattered daily crises, without the frames that these audiences were accustomed to in their consumption of MSM coverage.

Bloggers, Co-option, and the Appropriation of Alternative Frames

We may, in fact, see a recurrence of Eliasoph’s experience in the blogosphere. Wall (2004) points out that more important than the promotion of new genres of news by bloggers is this question: to what extent might mainstream news media co-opt blogs and bloggers onto their own media Web sites (she cites the examples of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), thus appropriating the blogs’ audiences. Although Wall’s analysis does not flesh this out, another question that emerges from such co-option is this: how will these bloggers then, be appropriated by the norms, voice and, indeed, the frames of MSM? Deuze (2003), in fact, believes such co-option of fragmented media publics such as bloggers to be important for the economic success and survival of mainstream media:

These ‘egocasters,’ living in a thoroughly individualized culture dominated by personal technologies (like the cell phone, laptop computer, digital video recorder and ubiquitous remote control), annotate and assemble their own, highly customized reality through media. One way for the industry to respond to this is through ever–more sophisticated editing and production techniques aimed at capturing the browsing, grazing, scanning and zapping behavior of media users. Another way would be, as noted earlier, to find ways to co–opt the ‘petit–narratives’ emerging online. Eminent news organizations like Le Monde in France and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa were early examples of this approach, offering moderated blogspace online to their readers. Yet all of these techniques serve the same purpose: to maintain the operational closure of the professional media system. It is my contention that the only way to adapt to the ‘new’ media ecology in an economically successful and, in a normative sense, socially desirable way is to include the former ‘audience’ as fellow narrators. (p. 3).

An example of such co-option came in the form of the CNN-YouTube presidential primary debates in July and November 2007. The telecast enabled people to pose questions via YouTube videos, thereby opening up the debates to diverse questioners such as a student lounging on her couch, a lesbian couple asking if they could be joined in matrimony, and workers in a refugee camp in Darfur drawing attention to their issues. The blogosphere was awash with disputes over whether this format democratized political discourse or muddied it. On the one hand, social media, they felt, was being co-opted into mainstream media. On the other hand, candidates, particularly in their presentation of YouTube style video commercials, were asked to perform at a whole new level of media savvy. In this case, the question is: even as this exercise threw open the framing of questions to audiences, what unconscious framing influences came into play given that audiences who posted YouTube videos sought to meet the approval of mainstream media (CNN)? Moreover, was this a case of mainstream media co-opting not merely the audiences and messages of social media but also the frames of the format -- democratization and freedom – that characterize social media?


Frame analysis in mass communication has traveled away from Goffman's inclusive approach and made forays into to the narrower areas of, chiefly, frame selection in the media and frame reception by media audiences. This growing specialization within a theory that had multiple avenues of evolution has limited our understanding of at least one key aspect of framing - the epistemology of framing in the media. While scholarship often touches upon the need for analyzing why, how and where MSM journalists adopt their frames, very little such research is actually done. This paper points to the arrival of the blogosphere as an impetus for the development of theory and empirical research into frame sponsorship, schematic convergence, reinforcement of dominant frames and co-option of blog formats and audiences.

Entman (1993) urged media scholars to adopt framing as a research paradigm in the areas of audience autonomy, journalistic objectivity, content analysis and public opinion and normative democratic theory. Reese (2001) comes close to addressing the need for such study when he provides the questions we may ask: Whose principle was dominant in producing the observed coverage? How did the principles brought to bear by journalists interact with those promoted by their sources? These questions involve looking behind the scenes and making inferences from the symbolic patterns in news texts, Reese has pointed out (p. 6). 

So, to seek to arrive at the kind of understanding that this paper believes frame analysis to be lacking in, we may employ (1) participant-observation studies of MSM journalists, their use of blogs online, and any leads they may get from blogs and follow offline (2) experimental research, focus group interviews and in-depth interviews into the reception, framing and reframing processes that MSM journalists experience through and despite blogs(3) textual analyses that study the commonalities of framing in news and other traditional and untraditional narrative texts, such as blogs.

To take just one example of a news story, the 2008 U.S. Presidential elections, we may develop research questions that extend framing theory into this new media environment. Table 1 in this study develops a typology of such research questions that extend the multiple facets of such study over the different actors predicted to have a framing influence. Similarly, Figure 1 provides a model depicting the framing interactions that may be expected among these actors. The typology and model may be modified for empirical research into other news stories that push these actors into play.

Framing, as seen from the discussion above, takes place in every form of text or discourse. We have seen that in the case of news coverage where the story has not been laid out, i.e., where the framing is vague, people's own schemas take charge, which is a process that blog audiences, too, may well employ.

It becomes necessary to look at this notion of promotion of frames by sources, both from the point of view of the political elite as source and the public or blogger and blog users as source. While there is considerable research on the political ramifications of framing, there is less on the aspect of people's schemas preceding and defining MSM or blog frames in the first place. Once again, such research becomes important when we reflect on Goffman's observation that “observers actively project their frames of reference into the world immediately around them, and one fails to see their so doing only because events ordinarily confirm these projections, causing the assumptions to disappear into the smooth flow of activity" (p. 39).

Most current research into media-public interaction, however, uses a constructionist model focusing on the interpretive process that the public employs in making sense of public affairs. In these studies, publics are seen to have used media discourse as a tool rather than an influencing process that the public deploys in structuring its sense of public affairs by using media discourse, once again, as a tool. This goes beyond the scope of research on merely what audiences want and get out of their news, which has been conducted in at least two instances (Berelson, 1949; Smith & Lichter, 1997) and into "how" and "why" audiences want their news framed. This could lead us into an opportunity to link the theory of framing with that of another popular mass communication theory, uses and gratifications (Blumler & Katz, 1974).

The ongoing research into framing effects, combined with the analysis of parallels between traditional narrative texts, news texts and blogs might lead us to urge a serious reform in the news media's understanding of their role being not in mere story-telling but in moving beyond the recognition of this fact into the evolution of a new textual objective, a mandate to inform, record, compile and, mostly, explicate.

We may also need some acceptance on the part of scholars of framing that mere establishment of the existence of frames and documentation of its effects in case after case alone will not lead us to a deeper, multi-layered understanding of why frames take place, who the frame sponsors are and why, finally, frames might be good or bad after all. To the extent that frames exist and thrive in all nature of public discourse, Chris Wickham's (1998, p. 7) appreciation of gossip may quite aptly sum up the need for a renewed understanding and critical appreciation of the framing and re-framing processes in traditional and new media:

What links all these is the construction of a community of talkers, be it a peasant village, or a family, or a drinking group, or an office -- or a class, or a nation -- who accept, or are supposed to accept, a set of shared values and images that locate them in the world of the past and present, and teach them how to deal in, and with, that world. Look for that talking and you will find those values and images. (p. 7)


An early version of this article was presented at the 2002 annual convention of the Association for the Education of Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), Aug. 6-10, Miami Beach, FL. The author would like to thank Renita Coleman, Gary Atkins, Jeff Philpott and the two peer reviewers of this journal for their comments.


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Table 1
A Typology of Research Questions for Empirical Studies On Framing in the New Media Environment in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections

Presidential Candidates

MSM Journalists

Political Bloggers

MSM Readers and Audiences

Blog Readers and Comments

What press and publicity frames did they employ to reach out to MSM and to bloggers?

How do they receive, construct and activate political schema directed at them from candidates?

How do they receive, construct and activate political schema directed at them from candidates?

How do they receive, construct and activate political schema directed at them from candidates through MSM coverage?

How do they receive, construct and activate political schema directed at them from candidates through blogs?

Do they frame their messages differently for MSM and for bloggers?

What are the dominant frames they use in their coverage of different candidates?

What are the dominant frames they use in their coverage of different candidates?

What frames did they perceive to be important for MSM coverage of the elections?

Did comments threads posted on political blogs change the frames of MSM coverage/ bloggers’ posts?

To what extent are their frames influenced by MSM coverage/bloggers?

How do their frames reflect/differ from candidate frames?

How do their frames reflect/differ from candidate frames?

How do the frames they consider important differ from candidate frames, MSM frames and bloggers’ frames?

How do the frames they consider important differ from candidate frames, MSM frames and bloggers’ frames??

Did all candidates develop their own blogs? What were the nature, format, content, voice, narratives and frames of candidates’ own blogs?

How do their frames reinforce/differ from frames on candidate web sites and blogs? How are they different from frames on political blogs?

How do their frames reinforce/differ from frames on candidate blogs? How are they different from frames in MSM?

Did they visit candidate blogs? If so, what differences did they perceive in framing as compared to MSM coverage?

Did they visit candidate blogs? If so, what differences did they perceive in framing as compared to political blog coverage?

To what extent are their frames influenced by comments threads posted by blog readers?

Were there shifts in the language, narratives and formats of MSM content that may reflect the narrative, personalized styles used in blogs?

To what extent did the language, voice, narratives and formats of blog content reflect those present in MSM coverage?

To the extent that MSM coverage saw a shift in language, voice, narratives and format, how were these received by MSM readers/audiences?

To what extent did the language, voice, narratives and formats of comments threads reflect those present in MSM coverage versus those in the blog posts?

Did the press and publicity frames of candidates co-opt or appropriate the styles and formats of blogs?

To what extent did MSM coverage change the political communication culture in the 2008 Presidential election as compared to the 2004 election?

To what extent did blog activity change the political communication culture in the 2008 Presidential election as compared to web sites and blogs in the 2004 election?

To the extent that MSM coverage changed the political communication culture, how was this received by MSM readers/audiences?

To what extent did the language, voice, narratives and formats of comments threads contribute to changing the political communication culture?

Note: The table above uses the example of the 2008 U. S. Presidential elections as one such news event for studying frame sponsorship and interactive frame construction over the blogosphere. The questions here may be adjusted and applied to empirical studies of other news stories.


Figure 1. Frame interactions expected in 2008 U.S. Presidential election coverage

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