Media Salience and Mass Murder: Examining Frame Changing Across Mass Shooter Events, 2000-2012

Media Salience and Mass Murder: Examining Frame Changing Across Mass Shooter Events, 2000-2012

Jaclyn Schildkraut (State University of New York at Oswego, USA) and Glenn W. Muschert (Miami University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5670-1.ch006

Abstract

Mass shootings in the United States continue to be a cause for national concern both for the public and politicians alike. A key component in this pervasive discourse is the news media, which, since most people never will directly experience a mass shooting or other episodic violent crime, acts as the main source for information about these and other crime events. The present study analyzes the media coverage and framing patterns of 12 years of public mass shootings following the 1999 attack at Columbine High School. A two-dimensional analytic model is used to examine framing at both the spatial and temporal levels. The findings indicate that while the framing across the time dimension remains consistent with previous research, the use of the space frames departs from previous research, indicating a shift in the coverage. These findings and their associated implications for policy responses to mass shootings also are considered.
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Review Of The Literature

Spanning disciplines of mass communication, political science, and sociology, researchers have continued to examine the role of media in influencing the saliency of social issues, including mass shootings. This body of scholarly work can be divided loosely into three key research areas: the issue-attention cycle, agenda setting, and media framing. These categories, while useful as conceptual tools for organizing relevant research, actually are interdependent of one another.

The Issue-Attention Cycle

The “issue-attention cycle” concept originally was introduced by Downs (1972) as a way to illustrate how social problems appear and disappear rapidly from the public’s consciousness. Downs (1972) posited that most issues were introduced by media, temporarily built salience among members of the public, and then almost as instantly faded out of the discourse, only to be soon replaced by another issue or event that captures the attention of audiences. To understand how media can perpetuate the concerns over a particular issue, he introduced a five step cyclical model: (1) the pre-problem stage; (2) alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm; (3) realizing the cost of significant progress; (4) gradual decline or loss of intense public interest, and; (5) the post-problem stage (Downs, 1972). This cycle largely is driven by media and, indirectly, by politicians and pundits who use media as a vehicle for prioritizing certain issues (Baumgartner & Jones, 2010). Rarely does this cycle focus on more than a single issue or a few key concerns at a given time, despite the vast number of issues competing for salience among the public (Baumgartner & Jones, 2010; Downs, 1972; McCombs & Zhu, 1995).

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