Institutional Isomorphism and the Community Structure Approach in Visual Framing of the Trayvon Martin Shooting

jpcover#ICantBreathe. #BlackLivesMatter. #Ferguson. One does not have to look far lately to find prominent discussions of race and social justice. You could argue that the present movement began in 2012, with the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. I looked at how elite and local newspapers covered the shooting and its aftermath, specifically in terms of the images used to represent the story.

I wrote more about the findings back in May, when an earlier version of the paper was presented at the International Communication Association annual conference in Seattle.

The article has now been published in Journalism Practice. You can access it here.

 

The published version provided a chance to think a great deal more about sociological explanations for news framing. In particular, it argues that institutional isomorphism offers a well-developed, multidisciplinary theoretical framework in which intermedia agenda setting can be positioned and strengthened. From a theory-building standpoint, the Martin shooting left something to be desired, but nevertheless demonstrated the functionality of the approach. I’m hoping to replicate the design in the future.

As a heavily quantitative media effects guy, this project began outside of my comfort zone. But I’m glad I was encouraged to follow it through to publication. It made the process of mass communication become that much bigger – thinking not just about the sender and receiver, but about the entire ecosystem surrounding them. And for that, I owe Wilson Lowrey a great deal of gratitude. He (and the tremendous number of books and articles he recommended) stretched me as a scholar, and made my approach more well-rounded as a result. Truly the sort of experience doctoral programs are meant to foster.

Access the full article.

The Effect of Instant Media Commentary on Perceptions of Political Speakers: A Conventional Case Study

aejmc14Presented August 9, 2014 at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Montreal, Qc., Canada, Electronic News Division.

For more information about this paper available here, or by visiting the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

Television news networks regularly allow us to see live instances of political communication – presidential addresses and candidate debates, for instance. Those communications are immediately followed by an attempt by anchors and commentators to contextualize and analyze what has just been aired. This instant media commentary has long been a source of concern for government officials. If media are biased in their coverage (which is the position of more Americans than perhaps any other time in our history) then this position of first impression could hold great persuasive power.

There is some evidence that instant media commentary can color our perceptions of presidential debates. However, those events are already subject to obfuscation. After all, the entire context of a debate is adversarial, with the audience left to evaluate numerous conflicting messages. This study seeks to extend that research to single-speaker political events, in which an opposing view is absent. Does instant media commentary still have the ability to influence audiences that have been exposed to a more cohesive argument? Embracing the adversarial view of the press, can it step in and ask tough questions with any real consequence?

Today, party nominating conventions are well polished spectacles – a full week ceded to one party to present a controlled message and an ideal depiction of a candidate. Television plays a significant role in this presentation – conventions are afforded primetime coverage by network television, and receive almost the entirety of the news cycle on 24-hour cable news channels.

As it turns out, this spotlight can have a big effect on a candidate’s presidential aspirations. Research has documented what Campbell, Cherry, and Wink dubbed the “convention bump,” in which spikes in public support immediately following a convention can carry through to the general election.

Convention speeches seemed an excellent context to test the effects of instant media commentary of single-speaker events. For this study, participants viewed the keynote address of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the 2012 Republican National Convention. (This study was completed before “Bridgegate,” and pre-test questions confirmed that Christie was a relatively obscure political figure to most observers at the time.) After the speech, participants were exposed to one of three sets of commentary (favorable-unfavorable-neutral), all from the Fox News telecast that evening. A control group watched the speech with no commentary. To test the effect of the “instant” nature of the commentary, some participants were given five minutes to think about the speech before proceeding to the commentary condition, while the rest watched the commentary in real time.

Among the Findings:

– A good speech delivered on a national stage can still move the needle for an aspiring political figure. Even liberal audience members found Christie to be a credible and talented speaker, though, as expected, conservative audiences embraced him the most. More importantly, the speech was especially persuasive to those who did not usually pay attention to politics – an audience primetime convention speeches reach better than most political communication.

– The effect of instant media commentary on audience perceptions might be overstated. All commentary conditions resulted in similar speaker impressions across receiver ideology. In fact, the only consistent finding was that viewers in the control group (no commentary) thought better of Christie, and even had stronger voting intentions.

– The “instant” nature of commentary may not be all that important. Taking a break between speech and commentary did not significantly change perceptions of Christie.

– So, what was really going on between the commentary groups and the control group? This study leaves plenty of room for speculation. Maybe it was the media outlet. All participants, regardless of ideology, perceived the Fox News commentary (even the negative condition) to be favorable toward Christie. Perhaps Fox’s reputation as a right-leaning news outlet primed audiences to expect a certain tone of coverage, and then see it, regardless of the reality. Interestingly, while this hurt media credibility among liberals and moderates, it actually increased media credibility among conservatives.

– Maybe it’s just the media. Evaluations of media speakers were considerably lower than evaluations of Christie. Folks don’t care for the press, we know, but this dislike may negatively affect impression development of the subjects being covered. After all, impressions of Christie dropped even when media commentary was entirely positive.

This was one of those projects that inspired more questions than answers, but was fun to interpret nevertheless. Replication in different contexts, with different source cues may help work through the various explanations for the results seen here.

A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Campaign Tweets in the 2012 U.S. and South Korean Presidential Elections

aejmc14Presented August 8, 2014 at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Montreal, Qc., Canada, Political Communication Interest Group.

For more information about this paper available here, or by visiting the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

 

As America embarked on its second social media election, changes to South Korea’s election laws permitted the highly digital nation to have its first. Amidst concerns that reform might lead to Americanized campaigning in South Korea, we sought to compare the Twitter activity between candidates in the two countries.

We conducted an extensive content analysis of over 4,500 Tweets from the accounts of presidential candidates, from frontrunners like Barack Obama and Park Geun-hye to third-partiers or independents like Jill Stein and Kang Ji-won. Specifically, we were curious as to what topics candidates Tweeted about, whether they used collectivist or individualistic language, and how often they used Twitter to engage in opposition attacks.

Among the findings:

– U.S. candidate Twitter feeds focused on issues and candidate image, while South Korean feeds spent more time promoting campaign events.

– Surprisingly, South Korean feeds featured almost entirely third-person language. They were far less likely to use collective “we/you” language than American candidates. U.S. feeds were also more likely to engage in individualistic “I” language. This might be less of a result of cultural differences in communication styles and more a function of South Korean usage of Twitter as a campaign calendar more than a platform for ideas.

– American candidates used Twitter to attack opponents more often than South Korean candidates. However, given cultural and political norms in the two nations, the number of attacks in the U.S. was less than what one might expect in other campaign communications, while the noticeable presence of negative campaigning in South Korea was new and somewhat surprising.

Together, the findings denote some differences between the two countries in Twitter campaign communication. However, similarities also emerged, and tended to point toward an Americanization of political discourse.

Institutional Isomorphism and the Community Structure Approach in Visual Framing of the Trayvon Martin Shooting

icaPresented May 25, 2014 at the annual conference of the International Communication Association, Seattle, Wash., Journalism Studies division.

To request the accompanying visual aids for this paper, email Dylan.

To read the abstract, go to the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

UPDATE: This conference paper has since been published.
DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2014.988993

 

The Trayvon Martin shooting and the legal (in)actions that followed, became perhaps the first major American news story of 2012. Narratives surrounding Martin and George Zimmerman widely varied, as did the images available to depict them. There’s a big difference between Zimmerman in an orange prison jumpsuit (for an unrelated charge for which he was never tried) and Zimmerman smiling in a suit and tie. Images of Martin depicted a boy much younger than the 17-year-old involved in the incident. Given the impact of imagery on the framing of a news story, this study considered competing explanations for why editors from newspapers serving racially distinct communities may have selected particular photographs to represent Martin and Zimmerman in their coverage. The method specifically sought to measure institutional isomorphism – a field-level homogeneity fed by stabilization and risk-reduction – and the community structure approach – variances at the local level based on the demographics of the market.

Among the findings:

– The story was far more likely to be depicted visually with images of or relating to Martin in the sample period (Feb. 27-Apr 27, 2012, or, from the day after the shooting to four days after Zimmerman’s not guilty plea in court).

– These depictions of or relating to Martin were overwhelmingly positive, while portrayals of Zimmerman were neutral-to-negative. Image valence held true across publications.

– Images of Martin himself quickly gave way to images of his family, and supportive demonstrators around the country. This initial spike of intense visual framing toward Martin diminished over time, and an increase in images of Zimmerman became apparent as he made more public appearances. Once again, these trends were consistent across publications.

What does it mean?

The findings observe a fairly homogenous media depiction of the Martin shooting. This is indicative of institutional isomorphism, though clear evidence of mimetic inter-media agenda setting was not identified. The results may be better explained by normative isomorphism, as media outlets quickly moved away from images captured outside of the context of the story. The apparent strength of journalistic norms in the face of a story that presented so many salacious angles offers some comfort to those concerned with the profit motive of the press affecting editorial decisions.

No support was found for the community structure approach. Despite the availability of images that portrayed Martin and Zimmerman in starkly different ways, newspapers serving predominately Black, Hispanic, and White communities employed similar presentations. Across the board, Martin was portrayed more frequently and more positively than Zimmerman, though Zimmerman’s legal battles seemed to be developing more frequent and nuanced coverage, a trend that should be followed beyond the sample in this particular study for a fuller understanding.

Covering the Conventions: Bias in Pre and Post-speech Media Commentary during the 2012 Presidential Nominating Conventions

aejmc

Presented August 10, 2013 at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), Washington, D.C., Political Communication Interest Group.

This paper was previously presented at the 2013 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium in Tampa, Fla., where it received the Top Paper Award for the Electronic News Division. AEJMC permits re-submission of regional papers to the national conference.

To request the accompanying poster for this paper, email Dylan.

To read the abstract and request the full paper, go to the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

SYNOPSIS:

Party nominating conventions used to be messy and meaningful. Today, they’re more pomp and circumstance. It’s no wonder the broadcast television networks pay far less attention to them now than in decades past. For cable news, on the other hand, the conventions provide fuel – or at least a moving backdrop – to the 24-hour news cycle. And in the pauses between speakers, the talking heads weigh-in with their analysis.

There is a healthy amount of research suggesting that the party nominating conventions can influence voters, as well as a stack of studies that indicate media analysis of political events can influence voters. However, the specific cross-section between conventions and commentary has not been evaluated.

Does instant media commentary affect perceptions of convention speeches? This study lays the foundation for that investigation by looking at how favorably (or unfavorably) different news networks covered the 2012 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

We looked at a large sample of live convention coverage – all six nights of primetime (10 p.m. E.T.) on the three major broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) and cable (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) networks. Here’s what we learned:

  • Convention coverage was generally favorable to the host party.
  • Bias was indicated by an exaggeration of this positive commentary, and near absence of negative commentary (for instance, coverage of the DNC on MSNBC was 3% negative; the RNC on Fox News was only 2% negative). In other words, unbalanced coverage was not the result of tearing one side down, but by disproportionately praising the other.
  • The largest differences in valence were observed on Fox News & MSNBC, though some statistical tests revealed evidence of bias in traditional network broadcasts.

We look forward to enriching this study with further data from the content analysis, including potential explanatory mechanisms. Next, we desire to test the effects of such instant media commentary on the audience (presently in the data collection phase). We extend our thanks to the reviewers, moderator, and discussant for taking the time to read our paper and provide valuable feedback.