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Wide White: How to frame a news story

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to frame a news story

The opening paragraph of a Christian Science Monitor article I read the other day on new Republican Party chair Reince Priebus caught my eye. It said,
A year ago, Wisconsin’s political landscape would have been described as a healthy purple, overseen primarily by Democrats who prided themselves on being socially progressive but fiscally conservative. No more.
I have to take exception to how this story is framed. Notice the word that sets up the article. It's the word "healthy."

By using the word "healthy," the journalist has setup their position of what a good political landscape looks like. It's not a political landscape with one party in power across the board, but one in which both parties share oversight, right?

Well, for the last few years, Wisconsin's Senate, Assembly, and the Governor's office have all been run by Democrats. So presumably, this journalist is indicating that these Democrats represented a "healthy purple." In fact, the description of the state being "overseen primarily by Democrats" could be changed to "overseen solely by Democrats." And I can assure you that there wasn't much fiscal conservatism to be found in the bunch. Minnesota's missing $58 million in tax reciprocity dollars from Wisconsin are a testament to that.

Of course, without knowing any better, it's entirely possible that the Democratic Party had a number of those "healthy purple" moderates. But without knowing any better, it's equally possible the Republicans have a few as well, and that's really not the point here either way.

The point is the journalist needs to stay out of determining what's healthy and what's not. The journalist's job is to report the facts. It may be that purple is healthier, but let the reader make that conclusion.

I realize it's impossible for journalists - or anyone - to remove their personal perspective entirely from their stories, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to see, especially when it's so blatantly obvious.

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Blogger Kara Jo declared,

Good points Joey.

1/19/2011 8:37 AM  

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