SO WHAT REALLY SHAPES THE NEWS STORIES WE HEAR TODAY?
When you look at a lovely picture, you notice all the great things it contains. You can see the vivid color, the interaction between the subject and its surroundings, and you can get a sense of what the artist is trying to make you feel. But one of the things that people always take for granted in the art world is the frame that holds the content.
This frame usually has a lot of thought put into it, and can change the way we look at the painting depending on its many characteristics. It makes us look at the painting as if it’s in its own world, and nothing outside that frame matters to the art or artist. Similarly, the framing of a news story can be just as significant, thought out, and most of all goes unnoticed by the audience.
But unlike art, the frame for news is often not the end of the story, but instead an itty bitty snapshot of the much larger issue. How news stations frame their stories can leave us with different levels of information, and allow for either the success or failure of telling people what, exactly, is important in the story.
With overpopulation, the crisis itself has so many different aspects that no one news station could ever cover all the details about how our numbers will affect our culture.But they sure do try, and will fit their frame around the pieces of information they most agree with. To continue on with my analysis of the three big dogs of prime time TV news, FOX, MSNBC, and CNN, I will look at the frames in which they set their coverage of the overpopulation crisis.
WE’LL GIVE YOU AN A FOR EFFORT, FOX NEWS…
The framing for these two stories present to very different, if not contradictory, views on the overpopulation problem for the FOX News audience to comprehend. Keeping in mind the obvious conservative agenda for the station, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that FOX would deny many of the aspects that scientists say contributes to climate change.
In their article Botched environmental predictions for 2015, Fox News focuses the story on how different economic and environmental disasters that were supposed to be a result from the overpopulation problem, as Paul Ehrilch and other economic/environmentalist predicted back in the 1980s. The purpose and frame of this article doesn’t seem to revolve around the effect that overpopulation might be having on the environment and the economy, but more so on proving the 35 year old predictions wrong.
This frame, although good for the conservative agenda that Fox News knows and loves, is bad for creating actual awareness of the negative effects that overpopulation does indeed have on the current economy and environment, therefore misleading their readers from the actual truth that exists outside their frame.
The other side of overpopulation that Fox News frames focuses more on the causes than the harmful effects- especially when that cause is the evil of teenage sex, pregnancy, and abortion. This article, Teen pregnancies contribute to Overpopulation, unlike the one that focuses on how overpopulation hasn’t been as much of a problem as expected, instead frames this article on how terrible overpopulation is for society.
However, it uses this fact to condemn teenage drinking and apparently resulting pregnancy. This frame also takes away from the seriousness of overpopulation as an economic and environmental crisis, and exploits the issue to their own religious values, mentioning key issues such as abortion and teen drinking in the article for added heat. By doing this, overpopulation is overshadowed by the fear that children should not be drinking at all, and takes away from the social responsibility/ any type of rhetoric that would make the audience themselves assume responsibility for the crisis.
MSNBC LIKES TO COVER LITERALLY ALL THE BASES…
NBC’S first article Will technology save us from Overpopulation? frames the overpopulation issue around the how many people believe that technology will be the savior of the human species from the carrying capacity fall. It covers the main areas of controversy within the issue, and the main theories as to how to deal with the problem.
By framing this issue around the two debating sides to the controversy, NBC gives readers balanced information with a hint of bias towards the precautionary theory behind overpopulation, while still not scapegoating the optimistic economists. By referring to some of the main topics of the problem, like The Bet between Paul Ehrilch and Julian Simon and technological developments over time, the reader can be fully informed about the information presented to them.
This article, however, does not direct the reader to form a solid opinion about overpopulation, but instead hones in more on the awareness and education aspect, allowing the audience to make up their own minds about the issue.
This frame ties in nicely to the Seven big problems with 7 billion people, which focuses more on the huge negative side effects that overpopulation has on the economy, the environment, and the international culture. They literally go into almost every problem that has to do with overpopulation (some are kind of debatable even for their applicability) and give solutions as to how to fix it in todays culture.
I want to say though that while the problem they are addressing is indeed huge, the frame they’re using for it is way way too big. By throwing so much information in their coverage (admittedly in a great order from most to least important in the population crisis), the huge frame may overwhelm audiences, although proving the point of how important the overpopulation crisis is.
It also presents an extra sense of accuracy to the reporting, as they have so many experts that concur and study this problem in their own works. This frame also gives readers a little less room for decision, as this article makes it clear that overpopulation is a terrible crisis that involves many aspects of society today.
CNN MIGHT AS WELL TEACH AN OVERPOPULATION COURSE… OH WAIT, THEY DID.
This station’s frame on overpopulation hones in more on the scientific and educational values of overpopulation versus the different arguing sides of the population problem. In their article Overpopulation could be a people, planet problem, CNN delves into the exact science behind carrying capacity, and how the different socioeconomic birth rates affect the overpopulation problem differently.
This article frames the population crisis as an epidemic in need of attention, and brings readers to the conclusion that not only does something need to be done about the crisis, but that they can help by choosing to reproduce responsibly.
Similarly, the outline for the student news activity also brings focus to the more concrete facts behind overpopulation, and follows a direct science curriculum in order to support the claims the frame is making. This frame seems to promote education and awareness of the problem first and foremost, and allows students to learn about an environmental topic that might not otherwise be covered in the curriculum. This extension of awareness to students is extremely important for shaping the up and coming generation’s views.
The op-ed This planet comes with limits that CNN published on their website does not similarly use a frame of awareness and education, but instead points out that different people’s mentalities about the “unlimitedness” that is the earth are the true problem behind overpopulation. The author accuses those who believe that growth is an essential part of our economy and culture are the main problem behind all of this population density, thus giving us many faces to the common, non-point source enemy. He also plays with the quantity vs. quality idea, and gives readers a reason to blame the population problem on the “growthers”, as he calls them.
The frame persuades readers to believe that it is our society and the people who live in it’s fault that overpopulation is such a problem, and blame us first world countries because of our obsession with growth, which frames society very negatively.
WELL THAT IS QUITE A RANGE RIGHT THERE…. IS THAT IMPORTANT?
Considering that a majority of the American public still rely on prime time news for information about the world, the method in which networks cover a topic tend to shape their audiences awareness. In the case of really complex topics, like sustainable development, the frame in which news casters sets their stories is the boundary to how much their audience knows.
With overpopulation, it is obviously apparent that the framing and approach to the crisis has much to be desired in the top trifecta of televised news. While some networks have definitely put more clarity and information in their frame than others, the overall effect- paired with the lack of agenda- causes a certain sense of widespread ignorance in the audience of these powerful news stations. And ignorance, though blissful, can never really a good thing.