Media Framing Informs and Influences

The media, like any other communicator, influences by what it says and how it says it, as well as what it doesn’t say. The media provides a window to the world by describing the goings on of the local council or of far away places. Surrounding this window is a frame that helps highlight facets of the events and issues to help the reader make connections. The reader opinion is thus shaped by the quality of the framing by the reporter.

Here’s a quick look at two recent news stories of the same thing. One frames the discussion and the other does not. One is for US audiences and the other is not. Which do you think would generate a more positive view of the profiled activities?

Here are the first five paragraphs of news item titled “US military Tweets to counter Taliban”:

The U.S. military in Afghanistan is launching a Facebook page, a YouTube site and feeds on Twitter as part of a new communications effort to reach readers who get their information on the Internet rather than in newspapers, officials said Monday.

The effort, which officials described as a way to counter Taliban propaganda, represents a sea change in how the military can communicate its message.

"There's an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we're engaging them as well," said Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.

The military on Monday announced the death of U.S. service member the previous day from non-combat-related injuries in southern Afghanistan by posting the news on Twitter hours before announcing it in a more formal press statement.

The military is also encouraging troops to post stories and photos on Web sites in an effort to portray daily life in Afghanistan, including stories about development projects that may not make the news.

Now here are the first five paragraphs from a different source:

The Taliban ``never lie.'' So says one of the insurgent group's usual spokesmen, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, speaking via cellphone recently from an undisclosed location.

The insurgents are agents of peace, he declares. Meanwhile, Canadian and other coalition soldiers in Afghanistan ``kill innocent civilians, especially women and children. They are the cruelest in the world.''

The Taliban and their adjuncts can say whatever they like, of course, with no fear of reprisal. They follow no rules, and they are seldom held to account by western journalists and war correspondents, who tend to focus more on coalition armies.

Yet Taliban media strategies are becoming more sophisticated. They work hard at getting out messages to local populations, and at shaping public opinion, here and abroad.

Even their most outrageous claims can become conventional wisdom. Once accepted by Afghan civilians, Taliban propaganda often filters into western media stories where it can be interpreted as fact.

Granted, the stories aren’t equal in length. The first is 318 words while the second is 1,245. The title and simplicity of the first story conveys a sense of silliness, I mean really, using Twitter to counter the Taliban? This is opposed to the second story which, by its title and opening, says there’s an information way going on and it’s about time we armed for it.

The trouble is few Americans read the second story or anything like it. They read the first and fail to understand even the purpose of using information as they read stories like this.

Here’s the first news story: US military Tweets to counter Taliban by Jason Straziuso, Associated Press

The second news story (recommended reading): NATO moves to counter Taliban propaganda machine by Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service