JeRI and framing theory

Framing theory, which examines how stories are told, is at the core of the JeRI project. (photo:   DRB62  /  Creative Commons   via flickr)

Framing theory, which examines how stories are told, is at the core of the JeRI project. (photo: DRB62/Creative Commons via flickr)



JeRI has mass communications theory at its core thanks to an area of research called “framing theory.” We are especially interested in how the theory relates to journalists and how they do their jobs.

Framing, in the context of an argument, has a colloquial meaning that’s pretty well recognized. For example, in the U.S. people may remark how gun advocates often make their argument against gun control in the frame of the constitutional rights. They are less inclined to frame their argument in terms of crime and order. 

This kind of logic has been applied thoroughly to journalism by mass communications theorists. Journalists, framing theorists note, will construct certain frames over others as they go about their reporting. Among these theorists, there is debate about where these frames come from. Are they part of how our minds work? Do the journalists make them up individually? Do the people that journalists speak to make them up? Are they a cultural inheritance? And so on. There is also a lot of debate about what kind of impact these frames have on the readers and viewers, voting and public policy. There is even debate about what constitutes a frame. 

JeRI is agnostic about these questions except one: JeRI takes as a given that, no matter what their origin, frames take their seat in journalism sources, in other words – the people to whom journalists speak: politicians, police, experts, people on the street, corporate executives.  

Sources are at the core of journalism. Every story, every report, every piece of journalism begins with a source. Stories may have one, or they may have dozens. The sources might also be categorized – citizens, politicians, academic experts, business owners, for example  – and in turn these categories can be counted for their frequency over time. Important questions begin to cascade from this starting point: 

  • What kinds of people do journalists quote most often? 
  • What kinds of sources are often the first in a story?
  • What kinds of sources get the most weight in a story? 

JeRI posits that a real-time, constant quantification and analysis of the types of sources that journalists use tells a story in itself. About whose stories are usually preferred, about whose stories are often missing. 

One possible outcome of the JeRI project is to provide a report card, effectively, on journalism practice. Understanding sourcing tendencies in coverage might inspire new approaches to certain subjects. A newsroom may be able to apply some findings to their future work. Such feedback could help establish a framework that would introduce some level of accountability to newsrooms and news-gathering.