Mon Sep 11, 2006
media framing of 9/11
A reporter called my younger brother, and being a grad-school smartie, he wrote an exchange with a reporter looking for a 9/11 angle on the subject of 'episodic vrs. thematic framing'.. (it's in reverse order so read from the bottom up).
-----Original Message----- From: xxxx, Anne [mailto:xxxx] Sent: Fri 9/8/2006 3:54 PM To: xxxx, Ryan M (UMC-Student) Subject: RE: Newspaper Interview Request -- Sept. 11 5th anniversary
I really appreciated your response. It provoked in me one of those painful but treasured moments of clarity. What you wrote of is something I live with everyday. Reporters constantly battle that exact conflict, and as you've experienced, often lose. I chafe under the restrictions of my profession, but I respect the regulations that create the episodic vs. thematic because if they didn't exist, we'd all turn into talking heads.
Unfortunately, that restriction often leaves us at the mercy of liars, left with little more to battle them than reporting what people think. Everyday I wish I could find the opening, the skill to enter into a world of ultimate truth that I am convinced great reporters do. Though I've heard many veteran reporters say it only comes once in a lifetime.
I hope you don't think I am just making excuses. I feel embarrassed because my interview request was based in laziness, in a lack of time to devote to brainstorming and an inability to come up with one of the millions of ideas that you wrote of. I still am fighting to find something that isn't a man-on-the-street piece or a repetition of the same "episodic framing."
I have half an hour to come up with something.
I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm putting your email up in my cubicle as a daily reminder of my true responsibility as a journalist.
Thanks for everything. Annie
-----Original Message----- From: xxxx, Ryan M (UMC-Student) [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Friday, September 08, 2006 12:33 AM To: Nelson, Anne Subject: RE: Newspaper Interview Request -- Sept. 11 5th anniversary
Thanks for getting in touch. I've already turned down a few reporters who have asked the same question, even one who is a friend. The reason is that I've been burned too many times by journalists with the best of intentions.
Stories such as this too often focus on the personal/private while tending to leave out the political/public issues we should all be discussing and debating. Perhaps you are familiar with Shanto Iyengar's categorization of episodic and thematic framing. An episodic frame narrows in on a specific individual or event, leaving out the broader context, steering attention away from public solutions. A story drawing on an interview with me about my brother's death, my activism, and how these five years have passed for me will almost inevitably turn out episodic. James Jasper writes: "What Iyengar called "episodic framing" makes views less likely to blame public officials, or to hold them responsible for a solution." This is the ritualized news story. Thematic framing, on the other hand, highlights broader trends along with political context, steering attention toward root causes, public policy, and social responsibility. I've granted interviews too many times to too many reporters who assure me that the story will not be about ME, MY brother, MY activism, or MY life, but about the political context in which this all takes place, challenging the dominant order, only to feel disappointed, and at times exploited, when the story comes out.
Even when the individual reporter intends to write a thematic article, it is difficult to actually pull it off when the article grows from such a personal seed. And even if that wonderful thematic article is written, the only parts that get past the editor's desk are the episodic aspects which we all know sell newspapers while safely skirting the debates that threaten dominant/elite interpretations of events. I appreciate your interest in writing this story, but I am going to say no for now. If you want to write something that opens people's eyes, I urge you to approach your anniversary story from a different angle that doesn't lend itself to an episodic frame. How about looking at some of the instances of terrorism that our government supports or implements five years after our phony war on terrorism started? And/or terrorism our government has conducted in the past which we have refused to apologize for or even acknowledge five years after 9/11? There are a million articles you and other journalists could be writing related to the anniversary that would be better than a story about me.
Excuse the long essay. If I thought that you were just out to take advantage of me, to get the money-shot and go, then I would have simply told you no. But I think you truly want to write something that fosters social justice, so I beg you to do just that. If you come up with a different approach, I would love to hear your idea and would consider granting an interview, but only if I can be sure that the story will not be framed as you have described it below. I don't mean to be ornery, I just don't want to be disappointed again.
To answer your second question, I don't know of anyone else living in Mid-Missouri who were directly affected by 9/11. For what it's worth, [xxxx], who lost their son in New York, live in SW Missouri.
-----Original Message----- From: xxxx, Anne [mailto:xxxx] Sent: Thu 9/7/2006 4:29 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org; xxxx, Ryan M (UMC-Student) Subject: Newspaper Interview Request -- Sept. 11 5th anniversary
My name is [xxx]. I am a reporter for the [xxxx] Daily Tribune. I was wondering if you would be up for an interview with me for a Sept. 11th anniversary article? I would like to interview you on the loss of your brother[xxxx], your activism after his death and in general how these five years have passed for you.
I was also wondering if you knew anyone else who lives in the mid-Missouri area that has a personal connection to Sept. 11 like you?
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