It’s what we bring that matters


For our final days in London we opted for pensione style living.

Sort of what you’d expect from college students visiting Italy for the first time: not from two middle-aged professionals who could afford the Hilton.

But we prefer local color and a room with character: we don’t need ice buckets and room service.

We found our tiny room at the end of a short hallway lined with a half-dozen rooms with a two-flight walk-up.

The bed was a fine double and the ceiling fan made the July heat bearable.

We cracked the windows on the West-facing wall which mercifully opened onto a quiet street in Hampstead.

Still: the room came with two sets of ear plugs, just in case (which we didn’t need).

We found a grocer down Heath Street with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and brought home one evening two purple figs and a pint of strawberries in a brown paper bag.

Scanning the television channels and eating strawberries I found British entertainment not so British anymore.

In my high school years when I went to school in London, you could get three channels in the evenings and even fewer in the day-time.

Back then our television broadcasts were in black and white.

Commercials appeared on ITV (you would never find an ad on the BBC) and they were few indeed.

Most common ads were for Fairy washing-up liquid and Double-Diamond beer.

Every thirty minutes or so–in-between programs–you’d get five minutes of BBC news.

News in the 1960s was punctuated by two events: the conflict in Northern Ireland and something the news-reader called “apartheid” in South Africa.

I grew up hearing about surprise bombings in England by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and learned that a minority government of foreigners ruled South Africa.

While I knew nothing about the political turmoil, I gleaned from the news that the IRA was a bunch of thugs and that native Africans should control their own country.

My memory of the news is impressive not for its clarity but for the salience of the framing.

News can be deceptive: just when you think you’ve gotten a bead on bias, once you carefully analyze most Western news sources–turns out (after close examination, and according to the empirical evidence) the story presents each side in a fairly balanced way.

That I was repulsed by the bombings and by the colonizing of Africa in the 1960s was a function of my own biases for certain. I saw on the news.

But now I have come to believe that what I judged from the news was, in part, a function of its presentation: its framing.

Watching British television today–in July 2017–reminds me that the effects of mass media are predictable in one sense: they emerge in the eyes of the beholder.

But news is also characterized by the attention paid to individuals and the language used to describe their agendas.

Our most current research project bears this out: we looked at news framing of the self-described militia that took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon (USA) for six weeks in 2016.

After hearing about the takeover, I figured the news would describe the militants unfavorably: deriding their claims that God inspired the US Constitution and that public lands should be turned over to the ranchers.

I also figured the news would sympathize with American Indians, who occupied this corner of Oregon for thousands of years, and whose claims to the land outweigh the ravings of the militia.

Instead, we discovered after close inspection of the news narrative that most reporters gave voice to the militia, letting them tell their own stories in their own way.

Native people interviewed by reporters also told their stories their way–but rarely.

The news coverage wasn’t so much about how the stories were framed, but who got to speak.

On balance the militia was quoted again and again, while the Paiute Indians and the federal agents who oversee the rangelands appeared infrequently.

And when the Indians were quoted, their interviews appeared later in the story, after the militia set the stage for the narrative.

So, in the final analysis, I figured that even though London–like my field of journalistic studies–has changed markedly over 45 years, there are some things that remain unchanged.

That is: mass media affect some people some of the time, under some circumstances.

The most powerful effect of mass media emerges from what we, as individuals, bring to bear on our interpretation of the message.

Just like the commercials on telly and the news briefs broadcast by the BBC: they shaped my memories of growing up in England in the 1960s.

I thought Fairy liquid was the best-ever washing-up liquid and that the IRA was thuggish,.

But this was more a product of my own thoughts and opinions and only slightly influenced by the way the information was framed. ###

11 July 2017







About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, framing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to It’s what we bring that matters

  1. Russ L says:

    What??? . . . Fairy liquid isn’t the best-ever washing-up liquid???

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now that I need to have accessible rooms. i notice that both the cost of rooms and tgeir dreary sameness has increased. As to the news coverage of the militia, your research confirms my impression. As always, thanks for your insightful writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, always, for your encouragement: best wishes with your home projects


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