Media Framing and Ethics
Lesson 1: Lesson Plan
Public relations practitioners have a variety of communication responsibilities. We must engage the needs and expectations of internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, local communities, investors, donors, organizational partners, competitors, customers, and news media. Of these groups, working with the news media—managing an organization’s effective, ethical media relations function—is perhaps one of, if not the, most important mandates charged to the public relations function. Why? Two reasons: First, one of our core responsibilities as practitioners is to convey our organization’s news to our publics, and the news media are a central tool in helping us deliver that news. Second, media are perhaps one of the most powerful societal influences. Media shape our collective “knowledge” about organizations and current events. And even though how we access our news has changed drastically over the last decade, we still rely on media to learn about the world around us. Consequently, in the process of telling our organization’s news, it is vital that public relations practitioners understand the importance of the news media, and how certain media framing devices influence what we “know” about today’s news.
- Students should be able to explain the fundamental premise of Agenda Setting Theory.
- Students should be able to explain Entman’s premise that every news article implies various problems, solutions, responsible parties, moral judgments. Students also should be able to distinguish between episodic and thematic framing.
- As reflected in Entman’s and Iyengar’s specific media framing frameworks, students must understand that analyzing media requires a systematic approach; they must move beyond generalizations regarding their takeaways, and be able to provide examples that reflect specific framing devices being used. Asking specific macro (context) questions and then micro (content and style) questions allows them to do so.
Lesson 2: Lesson Plan
Although the first lesson focused on general world news events, the lessons of media framing have important, specific application to practitioners’ daily role. As our organization’s environmental scanner, we must stay current with the news—the stories specific to our organization, as well as those stories about peers, competitors, and issues generally—that potentially could involve our organization and/or demand action by our organization. In this second lesson, therefore, students will be introduced to the practitioner’s role in analyzing the news, and how that analysis could help inform ethical decision-making and PR best practices.
- Students should be able to outline what goes into an environmental scanning process, and how news coverage contributes to that process specifically. They should be able to explain how media coverage should inform their role as an organization’s ethical conscience.
- Students should understand how the principles of media framing analysis apply to our ethical public relations lens. This section also discusses how providing needed ethical counsel might be difficult for management to hear.
- Lesson 1 PowerPoint
- Lesson 2 PowerPoint
- Lesson Plans for Lessons 1 and 2
- Lesson 2 Response Rubric
- Interview with Sandra Clark, vice president for news and civic dialogue at WHYY, on media framing
Working with news media is central to daily ethical public relations practice. In fact, beyond conveying our news to internal stakeholders, media are perhaps the most important group with whom we must communicate. Why? Media are a primary source from which the public learns about what is happening in their individual communities. Media wield great power in shaping the public agenda, and what the publics “knows” about what is happening in the world around them. Consequently, in public relations we must rely on the media to help relay our organization’s news to our key external publics—the many, diverse individuals and stakeholders our organizations serve, including investors, consumers, community leaders, business partners, and opinion shapers. Accordingly, we must understand the processes through which media tell (and our publics hear) today’s news. Scanning, analyzing, and working with the media ultimately has important ethical implications for how we, in turn, responsibly shape our own message and contribute to the public conversation.
Before we dive into the ethical mandate public relations has in working with the media, though, it is important first to explore the powerful agenda setting role of the media itself.Citations & Resources
Lesson 1 Additional Readings
Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51-58.
Entman, R. M. (2004). Projections of power: framing news, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gitlin, T. (1980). The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Iyengar, S. (1991). Is anyone responsible? How television frames political issues. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (pp. 1-16; 46-68).
McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), 176-187.
Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9–20.
Weaver, D. H. (2007). Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 142–147.
Referenced Josh Brown Articles
Lesson 2 Additional Readings
Block, E. (2016). Historical Perspective: http://www.awpagesociety.com/site/historical-perspective
Bowen, S. A. (2008). A State of Neglect: Public Relations as ‘Corporate Conscience’ or Ethics Counsel. Journal of Public Relations Research, 20(3), 271-296.
Dyer, S. C. (1996). Descriptive Modeling for Public Relations Environmental Scanning: A Practitioner's Perspective. Journal of Public Relations Research, 8(3), 137-150.
Lauzen, M. M. (1995). Toward a Model of Environmental Scanning. Journal of Public Relations Research, 7(3), 187-203.
Heiber, R. E. (2013). “Ivy Lee.” in Encyclopedia of Public Relations, 2nd Ed. Editor Robert Heath.
Kim, R. (Oct. 4, 2008). Apple donates $100,000 to fight Prop. 8. SFgate.com. Retrieved on Nov. 18, 2016 from http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2008/10/24/apple-donates-100000-to-fight-prop-8/
Kopytoff, V. (Sept. 26, 2008). Google opposes Prop. 8. Retrieved on Dec. 9, 2016 from http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2008/09/26/google-opposes-prop-8/
Dr. Dean Mundy
Assistant Professor, University of Oregon
Dean Mundy, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public relations in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. His research investigates the communication strategies used by local and state-level LGBTQ advocacy organizations and how the principles of diversity and inclusion inform best practices in public relations. His research goals broadly focus on how public relations theory and practice can be informed beyond the corporate application, as an instrument to give voice to the voiceless.