How the News Frames Child Maltreatment: Unintended Consequences

by Axel Aubrun; Joseph Grady

Aug 1, 2003
While advocates are usually gratified to see attention paid to their issue in the news, the coverage can often be a mixed blessing, as research by the FrameWorks Institute and others has shown. It is the way that stories are told in the news that affects public thinking, and many of these stories do not guide thinking in constructive directions. A story that seems to convey important information may also have unintended, damaging consequences for public understanding and engagement. This document summarizes some of the major patterns in news coverage of child maltreatment -- the key narratives, frames and causal stories that are conveyed to the public on the issue. The material for the analysis includes a collection of roughly 120 news articles collected by Prevent Child Abuse America and Cultural Logic. Additionally, the review included a collection of several dozen TV news stories assembled by the Center for Communications and Community at UCLA. The premise behind this study is that once advocates have a better idea about the way their issue is portrayed in the media, they can be strategic about choosing which narratives to reinforce, which to challenge, and which to downplay. A close examination of news coverage also gives advocates a window into what they are up against as they try to increase public engagement. This research analysis is part of New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and was conducted in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute, and commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Please visit our website for more information.
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