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WHATS

IN A FRAME?
A CONTENT
ANALYSIS
OF MEDIAFRAMING S T U D I E S
IN THE WORLDS LEADING
COMMUNICATION
JOURNALS, 1990-2005
By Jorg Matthes
This paper provides a systematic analysis of media framing studies in
the worlds leading communication journals. A quantitative content
analysis of 131 studies published in fifteen international journals
demonstrates how frames are conceptualized and measured. Current
problems in framing research include lack of operational precision, the
descriptive focus of many analyses, neglect of visuals, and insuficient
reporting of reliability.
As stated in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, One of
the most fertile areas of current research in journalism and mass communication involves the concept of framing. Fueled by Entmans seminal
paper,2frame analysis has become a lively and important methodology.
In essence, frame analysis examines the selection and salience of certain
aspects of an issue by exploring images, stereotypes, metaphors, actors,
and messages. Following DAngelo, framing is more a research program
than a unified paradigm? As such, framing combines strange bedfellows that differ in important philosophical ass~mptions.~
The diversity of theoretical perspectives-cognitive, constructivist, and criticalhas been beneficial in enabling a comprehensive understanding of all
facets of the framing p r o c e ~ s . ~
At the same time, scholars are faced with an immense variety of
theoretical and operational understandings of frames. This study
attempts to go beyond offering the simple observation that terms are
used inconsistently, and reports a systematic content analysis of media
framing studies in leading communication journals. The aim is to show
precisely how news frames are conceptualized and operationalized in
the literature, thus providing insights to critically reflect what framing
really is and what sites of fracture exist. This endeavor bears great theoretical importance because, as Reese has noted, framing authors often
give an obligatory nod to the literature before proceeding to do whatevJorg Matthes is an assistant professor for political communication and political behavior I ~ M Cauaderly
at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich, vol.86,No.z
Switzprland. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual ICA Conference S t ~ m ~ 2 ~ 9
May 24-28,2007, in San Francisco. The author wishes to thank two anonymous review- ~ ~ ~ ~ m m c
ers and associate editor Julie Andsager for their insightful comments and suggestions.
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er they were going to do in the first place."6 Therefore, this study tries to
show empirically what kinds of frames are analyzed and to what extent
they share a common understanding. Furthermore, by identifying how
framing scholars define and code frames in content analysis, we may see
strengths and weaknesses in terms of reliability and validity. Thus, this
article aims to provide a basis for a critical self-reflection on framing
research.

Literature
Review

350

Four aspects of conceptualizing and coding frames can be


addressed: (1) definitions and how they are used for operationalization,
(2) the type of frames, (3) use of theory, and (4) the methods of frame
analysis.
Definitions. There are two basic genres of definiti~n.~
General definitions describe the term "frame" without clear guidelines for operationalization. For instance, Gitlin described frames as "principles of selection, emphasis, and presentation composed of little tacit theories about
what exists, what happens and what matters."8 Such general definitions,
while useful, leave the explicit operational understanding of the frame
concept open. Other definitions specify what frames generally do, such as
defining problems, making moral judgments, and supporting remedies?
Such definitions provide precise operational guidelines, enabling "inferences that distinguish framing from themes, arguments, assertions and
other under-theorized concepts."1 Still, operational definitions can be
used in different ways: They can be translated to frame indicators or cited
to ground the reader in framing literature. The use of frame definitions is,
therefore, central to frame validity, i.e., whether scholars really do measure what they intend to measure.
Frame Type. Scholars have conceptualized news frames in different
ways at differing discourse units (units of analysis). Some studies use
news items or articles as discourse units," some use the proposition,12yet
others focus on visual features.I3 We can also distinguish at least three
roles for visual elements. First, text is coded and visuals are ignored.14
Second, visuals are directly coded as a constituent of a frame (as a discourse unit).I5 Third, visual elements are not the main constituent of a
frame but are discussed when interpreting the frame.16 For several units
of analysis, scholars have identified single or multiple frames. For
instance, Carpenter;17 Kerbel, Apee, and Ross;'~ and Dimitrova and
Stromba~k'~
used the news article as discourse unit, but identified multiple frames per unit. Thus, for each story, researchers coded "whether
each of the [...I frames was present or absent and, if present, the degree
to which it was featured in the story."20Others extract one frame per
unit.2l
Frames have been conceptualized at various levels of abstraction;
e.g., as issue-specific or generic." Issue-specific frames mean every issue
can have different issue-specific frames.= Generic frames transcend thematic limitations as they can be identified across different issues.
Iyengar's thematic and episodic frames are prime examples.24Semetko
and Valkenburg postulated five generic frames: conflict, human interest,
economic consequences, morality, and responsibility.25
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Use of Theory. Use of theory is a central aspect when judging


content analytical framing research. Some studies derive hypotheses
about the structure and nature of
Others formulate research
questions with an interest in the description of news content.27Scholars
have argued [mlost of the research on media framing is still fairly
descriptive and relatively atheoretical.28This assessment may be justified, but without a more systematic analysis, it remains a subjective
view.
It is also necessary to examine the ways frames are connected to
antecedents and consequences. In fact, one strength of framing research
is its ability to bridge several research areas such as the production, content, and effects of n e ~ s . 2Several
~
connections to antecedents and consequences exist in the literature. Some studies focus on content analysis
of frames, but at least discuss how frames evolve or what effects they
might have.jOOther studies combine analysis of frames with other data
sources such as interviews with journalists or other content p r o d u ~ e r s , ~ ~
factual
or public opinion s~rveys.3~
Methods of Frame Analysis. Because methodological approaches
are hard to systematize, single methodological steps in frame analysis
are distinguished here. More specifically, it is crucial to know (a)
whether the analysis is text-based or number-based, (b) whether frames
are determined inductively or
(c) whether coding is manual or computer-assisted,and (d)whether data-reduction techniques are
used to reveal frames or whole frames are coded as such. These methodological features can overlap and result in different approaches.
A number of studies try to identify frames with a text-based, nonquantitative analysis.%Rooted in the qualitative paradigm, these studies are based on relatively small samples that should mirror discourse.
Typically, frames are described in-depth, with detailed quotes, but without quantification. Most of those studies extract frames inductively,%
but others work ded~ctively.3~
Other studies code frames as variables in a quantitative content
analysis, both inductively and deductively. In inductive studies, frames
are derived from an initial exploratory analysis of a sample, then
defined in a codebook and coded in quantitative content analysis?* An
example of deductive, quantitative measurement is Iyengar s episodic
and thematic
Yet other quantitative studies do not code frames
as such, but reduce several variables to frames with cluster and factor
analysis. Van Gorp coded framing devices in a manual content analysis,
such as problem source, responsibility, metaphors, lexical choices, or
visuals.4oThese variables were then cluster analyzed and the two clusters treated as frames. Matthes and Kohring proposed a method that
codes Entmans single frame elements in a standard content analysis. A
cluster analysis of these elements then reveals the frame.4l
Yet other quantitative studies have applied computer-assisted
frame analysis, e.g., Miller and colleagues suggested so-called frame
Assuming frames are manifested in specific words, the
authors identified frames by examining words that tend to occur together with the help of clustering techniques (without manual coding).
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For example, Miller, Andsager, and Riechert analyzed candidate frames in


the 1996 primary elections.43Some studies have advanced computerassisted content analysis beyond merely grouping words.& For instance,
Shah and colleagues created syntactic rules that capture the meaning of
sentences.45
The rather unsystematic review of studies reported above demonstrates the huge variety of approaches. Both text-based and number-based
studies extract frames inductively or deductively. In addition, numberbased, quantitative studies can vary in regard to coding whole frames vs.
using data-reduction techniques or manual or computer-assisted content
analysis. From this review, it is hard to tell which procedures dominate
the framing literature and how these relate to underlying theoretical
assumptions. Thus, we need a more systematic analysis that answers
these questions.

Research
Questions

As should be obvious from this review, many things can be in a


frame. Central to our understanding of how scholars conceptualize
frames are the questions of which definitions are cited and how they are
operationalized. This leads to the first research question:
RQ1: Which definitions are used for the operationalization of media frames, and how are they used?

It is then crucial to know what types of frames are identified, at


which levels of abstraction and units of analysis. That raises the question
of whether single dominant or several frames are identified within a news
item. We also need to know if and how visual material constitutes frames.
Thus:
RQ2: What types of frames are identified in content analytical literature?
RQ3: To what extent are visual elements of news items
considered for the identification of frames?

Closely related to the types of frames is the use of theory in framing


research. The more advanced a theory is, the more deductively it will be
pursued. Therefore, we need to know to what extent framing research is
theory-driven. One basic indicator of that is the use of hypotheses in contrast to research questions. Moreover, the discussion of antecedents and
consequencesof news framing is relevant to framing theory. By examining the origins and effects of frames, scholars could move beyond a mere
description of media content, thus ultimately advancing the understanding of frames.
RQ4: To what extent is media framing research theorydriven, and to what extent are consequences and antecedents
addressed?

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Methods of frame analysis and their reliability are important,


as method needs to be analytically distinguished from frame type.
Different types of frames can be extracted with varying methods. The
frame type describes what kinds of frames are explored. In contrast, the
method describes how researchers extract these frames from the material. This how of frame extraction is important to the establishment of
reliability. In order to contextualize the conceptualization of frames, we
can ask how different methodological approaches relate to the theoretical understanding of frames, the type of frames, and the question of
intercoder reliability. This leads to the final research question:
RQ5: What are the most prevalent methods of frame
analysis, and how do they relate to the theoretical conceptualization of frames and reporting of intercoder reliability?

This study analyzed all articles (including research notes) that


have reported a content analysis of media frames published in fifteen
journals. Selection of journals was guided by three principles: they must
have a focus on communication; they should include different epistemological perspectives; and the study of framing research should
include an international perspective. Following these principles, fifteen
journals were selected. The major communication journals were
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly ( N = 20 articles), Journal of
Communication (9), Communication Research (4), Political Communication
(23), Mass Communication & Society (7), Haward International Journal of
Press/Politics (lo), and American Behavioral Scientist (4). To integrate journals focusing on critical perspectives, the journals Critical Studies in
Media Communication (7), Journal of Communication Inquiry (5), and
Journalism: Theory, Practice b Criticism (6) were included. The major
European journals European Journal of Communication (5), International
Communication Gazette (13), and Communications: The European Journal of
Communication Research (3) were analyzed. Finally, the Canadian Journal
of Communication ( 8 ) and the Asian Journal of Communication (7) were
selected as representatives for Canada and Asia. Because framing
research evolved in the 1990s, journals were analyzed from January
1990 to December 2005.
For each journal, articles that identified, named, and extracted
media frames in a content analysis were selected. Articles merely using
the frame metaphor were excluded. Keywords, abstracts, and parts of
articles were read in order to identify relevant articles. If available,
search engines of the journals were searched for frame and framing.
This procedure resulted in 131 articles.
Coding Instrument. Descriptive variables included media sources
analyzed and time frame of coverage. Two phases (1990-1999:n = 36;
2000-2005: n = 95) of studies were distinguished.
Conceptual variables included the type of frame (issue-specificor
generic), unit of analysis, the number and names of extracted frames,
citation of as many as three definitions of frames, and coding of mul-

Method

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tiple or single frames per discourse unit. Coding determined whether a


definition was explicitly translated to frame extraction or if the definition
was cited just to ground the 1~ader.4~
For instance, if the conceptual definition of frames included attributions but none were included for operationalization, then the definition was used for grounding. In contrast,
when clear coding instructions were derived from the definition, then the
definition did undergird frame extraction. For example, Lawrence identified the game frame from the literature and coded it as such; Kensicki
operationalized frames explicitly following Entmans definition.@ The
part of the article in which the definitions were cited was coded.
For use of visuals, three levels were coded: (a) text- or word-based
coding (no visuals), (b) explicit coding of visual material as frames, and (c)
use of visual material to contextualize and interpret the frame. These
codes were derived from an iterative analysis of all articles examining
visuals (n = 22).
Theory variables included the use of hypotheses and hypothesis
tests rather than research questions and descriptive re~ults.4~
Antecedents
or consequences of framing were addressed. Antecedents were coded as:
(a) merely discussed (without presenting other data), (b) interviews with
journalists presented, (c) factual data presented, or (d) press releases analyzed. Similarly, consequences of framing could merely be discussed, or
survey and experimental data could be presented.
Method variables included sampling, intercoder reliability, and
method of frame extraction. For the latter, broad typologies like quantitative vs. qualitative methods50or the typology proposed by Matthes and
Kohring51 were not applied because of their heuristic nature. Instead,
frame derivation was coded as performed based on text or on numbers;
inductive or deductive extraction; whether data-reduction techniques
were used to reveal the frame; and whether coding was performed manually or computer-assisted (word frequency lists, keyword-in-context
lists, or syntactical word relationships).
The author performed the
Krippendorffs alphaB was
computed, yielding sufficient reliability scores. Because a full census of
articles was conducted, no tests of statistical significance were performed.

Results

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Basic Descriptive Results. Fifty-three percent of studies examined


newspaper coverage, 13%analyzed TV, 10% TV and newspaper, 8% magazines, 5% newspapers and magazines, 2% online news, 2% press releases and newspaper coverage, 1%videos, and the remaining 6% a mixture
of media. The number of analyzed articles ranged from 1 to 42,695. Most
studies used a purposive sample (79%),5%worked with random samples,
2% with a constructed week, 3%with other samples, and for 12%no information about sampling was provided.
Definitions and Types of Frames. RQ1 dealt with definitions.
E n t m a n ~definition
~~
of media frames was most influential (see Table l),
followed by Gamson and Modiglianis,56 Gitlins, and I y e n g a r ~ . ~ ~
However, citing a definition does not necessarily mean that it is used as a
direct guide for operationalization. Only 20.5% of definitions explicitly
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TABLE 1
Cited De3nitions of Media Frames
Number

Entman (1993,2004)

51

28.7

Gamson & Modigliani (1987,1989);Gamson (1992)

36

20.2

Gitlin (1980)

21

11.8

Iyengar (1991)

11

6.2

Semetko & Valkenburg (2000); Valkenburg, Semetko & de Vreese (1999)7s

5.1

Goffman (1977)79

4.5

Cappella & Jamieson (1997)80

3.9

Tankard (1991)81

2.2

Other

31

17.4

Total

178

100

Note: As some studies reported multiple definitions, as many as three main definitions were coded
per article.

undergirded classification, with the remainder used to ground the reader (91.2%of which are mentioned in the introduction). Narrower definitions by Iyengar (81.8%),Cappella and Jamieson (85.7%),and Semetko
and Valkenburg (100%) were mostly translated to operationalization.
Thus, the translation of frame definitions to frame indicators was frequently left unspoken.
RQ2 asked what kinds of frames were operationalized. Most
studies (42%) measured 2-3 frames, followed by more than 7 frames
(18%),4-5 frames (17%),1 frame only (15%),and 6-7 frames (8%). Only
24%of all studies used propositional units as main discourse units, 63%
worked with thematic units (i.e., the whole article), 3% analyzed visuals
as main units, and for 10% the level of analysis was unclear.59Overall,
34%extracted more than one frame per discourse unit. For instance, the
unit was the article, but several frames could be coded. The majority of
all studies coded only one frame per discourse unit (53%),and for 13%
this was not detailed. Thus, framing scholars seem to prefer broader levels of analysis, and, generally, a dominant frame per news item was
coded.
Textual elements were treated as the main constituents of frames,
rather than visuals (RQ3). Only 5% had directly coded visuals (3% as
the main discourse unit), and 83% completely neglected visuals.
However, 12% discussed the use of visuals, mostly when interpreting
frames. That means that, although visuals are not the main signifiers of
frames, they were treated as complementary elements and used for

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frame interpretation. Interestingly, the dominance of textual information


was also true for those studies that analyzed TV content (72%of them
ignored visuals).
One of the major conceptual questions in framing research is
whether scholars use issue-specific or generic frames. Of the studies, 78%
were issue-specific, and 22% reported generic frames. We identified 561
different issue-specific frames and 29 different generic frames. Among
generic frames, the conflict frame was most frequently reported (12 studies), followed by the issueframe (9), the thematicframe (9), the attribution of
responsibility frame, the economic consequencesframe, the episodic frame, and
the human interestframe (8 studies each), or the leadership and the morality
frame (5 each). Other generic frames were operationalized in very few
studies.@
This led to or suggested a useful typology of discourse format and
level of frame abstraction.6l Type A studies ( n = 5) worked with generic
frames coded on a propositional unit of analysis. Put differently, a generic frame (i.e., conflict) can be coded for every proposition. Type B studies ( n = 23) coded generic frames on the article level, e.g., presence or
absence of conflict is coded for every article. Likewise, type C studies (n
= 26) analyzed issue-specific frames on a propositional level, meaning the
presence of issue-specific frames was coded for every single proposition.
Type D studies (n = 59), the largest category, coded issue-specific frames
on the article level.
This typology allows an accurate classification of framing studies
and enables further comparisons!* Type B studies yielded the smallest
number of frames (mostly 1-3), type D studies reported an average number of M = 5.44 (sd = 5.66); and type C studies analyzed the highest number of frames (M = 7.84, sd = 9.03). Studies that reported propositionallevel frames analyzed fewer items than studies measuring frames at the
article level. Analysis of more than 500 items occurred in 29% of type D
and 41% of type B studies, but only 19%of type C. Furthermore, type B
studies most frequently cited the definitions by Iyengar ( n = 9), Semetko
and Valkenburg (8), Entman (6), and Cappella and Jamieson (4). In contrast, type C studies mostly cited Gamson and Modigliani ( n = 13),
Entman (13), and others (7). Type D studies mostly cited Entman ( n = 25),
Gamson and Modigliani (17), Gitlin (8), Goffman (7), and others (12).
Theoretical Status. RQ4 aims at examining the extent to which
media framing studies are theory-driven. The results show that the
majority of studies (68%) did not test hypotheses regarding frames.
Interestingly, 74%of studies that assess generic frames on the article level
(type B studies) and 2 out of 5 type A studies reported hypotheses, compared to 30% of type C and 27% of type D. Neglecting the small sample
sizes, this hints that generic frames are more suited for hypothesis testing
as they can be more easily compared across media sources, media types,
or periods of time.63In contrast, issue-specific frames (no matter the
propositional level) tend to result in a rather descriptive focus.
Discussion of antecedents and consequences of frames is another
indicator of theory. The majority of studies addressed neither antecedents
(79%)nor consequences (80%).Type C studies were less likely to ignore

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antecedents (65% did not take antecedents into account), and type B
studies were less likely to ignore consequences of frames (61%)compared to the other types of studies. When it comes to antecedents, 13%
discussed the frame-building process without presenting other sources
of data (i.e., how the frames were crafted by strategic actors). Four percent presented interviews with journalists. Two percent included factual data, and another 2% analyzed press releases. Similarly, 12% of all
studies discussed possible effects of frames, but only 7% presented survey data and less than 1%reported experimental data. Therefore, content analytical framing studies seldom draw connections to other fields
of framing research.
Methods for the Analysis of Media Frames. From 1990-1999,19%
of studies derived frames deductively from the literature, and from
2000-2005, this number jumped to 37%.Similarly, an increase in hypothesis testing appeared: In the first time period, 14% of studies tested
hypotheses in regard to media frames, but in the second period 39%performed tests. There was also an increase in use of inferential statistics
(1990-1999: 14%; 2000-2005: 38%; overall: 31%). These results suggest
that quantitatively orientated research is on the rise.
RQ5 results indicate 46%of studies were text-based (non-quantitative). Of text-based studies, almost all derived frames inductively
from the material (93%),and none conducted computer-assisted analysis or use data-reduction techniques. The remaining 54%of studies used
quantitative analysis; 47%of these work in an inductive manner. In contrast to text-based studies, 14% of the quantitative studies performed
computer-assisted analysis, and 23%use data-reduction techniques.
To develop a typology of methodological approaches, a hierarchical cluster analysis with the Ward-algorithm was performed.@Four
nominal variables were included text-based vs. number-based, inductive vs. deductive, manual coding vs. computer-assisted coding, and
data-reduction techniques vs. direct coding of the frame. The elbow-critenon led to a four-cluster solution.ffiCluster 1, the biggest cluster (n =
80), includes mostly text-based (and a few number-based) studies that
extracted frames inductively without use of data-reduction techniques
and computer-assisted content analysis. This cluster can be termed
inductive qualitative studies, with an interpretative focus. The second
largest cluster (n = 33) includes data-based, quantitative studies that
mostly used a deductive frame-extractionstrategy with manual coding
and no data-reduction techniques. Previously defined holistic frames
(e.g., thematic or episodic frames) are coded for their presence in a quantitative content analysis. These can be called deductive quantitative studies. Third, a small cluster (n = 8) is similar to the second, but instead,
data-reduction techniques were used for extraction of deductively
defined frames. This group of articles is called deductive quantitative-clustering studies. The last cluster ( n = 8) is called inductive quantitative computer-assisted studies; these included data-reduction techniques and no
manual coding.
The typology of frame measurement can be useful in describing
how researchers extract frames from content analytical material. Beyond

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TABLE 2
Frame Extraction Methods as a Function of Frame Type
Inductive
Deductive Deductive Inductive
Qualitative Quantitative Quantitative Quantitative
Studies
Studies
Clustem ComputerStudies
Assisted
Studies
TypeA
(genericat propositionallevel)

Total

1 (1.60%)

4 (12.5%)

0 (0.00%)

0 (0.00%)

3 (4.80%)

15 (46.9%)

5 (62.5%)

0 (0.00%) 23 (20.7%)

Type c
(issue-specificat propositionallevel) 15 (23.8%)

3 (9.40%)

3 (37.5%)

5 (62.5%) 26 (23.4%)

3 (37.5%) 57 (51.4%)

TypeB
(genericat article level)

TypeD
(issue-specificat article level)

44 (69.8%)

10 (31.2%)

0 (0.00%)

Total

63 (100%)

32 (100%)

8 (100%)

8 (100%)

5 (4.500/0)

111 (100%)

Note: Total N does not equal 131 due to missing values, i.e.,insuffiaent information in those studiesto
code this information.

that, it is interesting to see how these methodological choices relate to


the theoretical understanding and conceptualization of frames.
Unfortunately, the small sample sizes do not allow strong generalizations.
However, as Table 2 shows, some basic patterns appear. Inductive qualitative studies tend to analyze issue-specific frames (types C and D), while
deductive quantitative studies prefer the article as the unit of analysis.
Deductive quantitative-clustering studies mostly work with generic
frames at the article level and inductive quantitative computer-assisted
studies analyze issue-specific frames at the propositional level.
Reliability Reporting. Fifty-five percent of articles did not report
intercoder reliability, 21% reported simple agreement, 11%used Holstis
formula, 6% Scotts pi, 3% Krippendorffs Alpha, and the remaining 4%
documented other formulae. When reliability was reported, scholars usually documented an overall value (70%)or a range of values (18%)rather
than frame-by-frame (10%)or variable-by-variable reliabilities (2%).From
those 57 studies that reported intercoder reliability, 50 included information about the number of coders, 39 documented the sampling for the reliability test, and 32 reported the tests sample size. From 1990-1999, 30%
of all studies documented reliability, and from 2000-2005 it was 53%.
Nevertheless, compared to other studies that investigated the reliability
data in scholarly articles, these numbers are a cause for concern.&
Three explanations occur for the lack of reliability measures: First,
the method of frame extraction might play a role; second, reliability may
vary with the type of frame analyzed; and third, journals might have dif-

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TABLE 3
Reliability Reporting as a Function of Frame Type
Type A

TypeB

No Report of Reliability

1 (20.0%)

Report of Reliability

4 (80.0%)

16 (69.6%)

Total

5 (100%)

23 (100%)

TypeC

7 (30.4%) 11 (55.0%)

TypeD

Total

31 (55.4%)

50 (48.1%)

9 (45.0%) 25 (44.6%) 54 (51.9%)

20 (100%)

56 (100%)

104 (100%)

Note: Type A = generic at propositional level; Type B = generic at article level; Type C = issue-specific
at propositional level; Type D = issue-specific at article level (see text for explanation).Total N does not
equal 131 due to missing values, i.e., insufficient information in those studies to code this aspect.

ferent standards. To begin with the methodological approach, it is striking that 68% of inductive qualitative studies, 24%of deductive quantitative studies, and 43% of deductive quantitative-clustering studies fail
to report 1~liability.6~
Table 3 shows that studies working with generic
frames are more likely to report reliability than studies analyzing issuespecific frames. For issue-specific frames, reliability reporting does not
vary with the unit of analysis (type C and D).
Finally, crucial differences appear among the journals in which the
studies are published. Sixty percent of studies published in "American
flagship journals''68 documented reliability in contrast to 6% of studies
in "critical journals."69 European journals7"plus Asian and Canadian
journals are in the middle (48%).7l
Much has been written about framing, but no systematic, stan- ~
dardized analysis of the research literature has been conducted. This
study aimed to provide more systematic, fine-grained knowledge of
how researchers understand and measure frames. The results reveal
interesting descriptive patterns, but also some problems. In particular,
framing researchers need to critically reflect upon five points to move
this burgeoning research area forward.
First, translation of framing definitions to concrete, operational
steps is not transparent in a huge part of the literature. Some definitions
are general, giving little information about how to operationalize
frames. Other definitions provide more precise operational steps but are
not always explicitly followed. This is mostly true for Entman's frequently cited definition distinguishing frame elements, such as problem
definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluations, and /or treatment
recommendations. If frames are defined this way, then moral evaluations, for instance, should be a part of the frame and coded as such.
Clearly, these things need to be made transparent in frame analysis, and
single operational steps-that is, the translation of a definition to the
exact operationalization-must be explicitly stated. This is not to say

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that framing scholars failed to have these theoretical ideas, but we do


need to make them salient. The typology of framing conceptualizations
developed in this study could be helpful for that. Ultimately, this would
clarify what needs to be present so we can consider a frame as existing as
a unit of analysis.
Second, a clear conceptual divide exists between issue-specific
frames and generic frames. Some generic frames describe structural features of news items, such as conflict or personalization. Others are related
to features of topics and issues, such as the economic or the morality
frame. We need to specify how general a frame must be in order to be
classified as generic. We also need a conceptual discussion about the
differences between generic frames, such as conflict, and news values.
This is not to say that generic frames are unable to yield useful insights.
However, the term frame should be used carefully, and we need a further scholarly debate about what a frame really is and is not.
Similarly, theorists need to consider whether the frames in media
content conceptually match with communicator frames or audience
frames. Although framing profits from conceptual and paradigmatic
diversity, scholars must share a common definition when investigating
processes of frame building and framing effects. For instance, the notion
of contesting frames is inherent to the strategic framing of communicat o r ~Translating
.~~
this idea of frame contest to the analysis of single news
articles, we cannot u priori decide that articles will always have a dominant, issue-specific frame. Moreover, strategic framing scholars are mostly not interested in generic frames, but in issue-specific,evaluative frames.
It appears that content researchers analyze frames that strategic framing
scholars might regard as rather irrelevant.
Third, most studies are descriptive, not testing any hypotheses
regarding framing theory. This is especially true for issue-specific frames.
Without doubt, descriptive studies are of great value to the field, and
framing is a very useful concept to contextualize and describe media content. However, to advance a theory of framing as a major concept within
the field of communication, a less descriptive strategy is necessary. This is
also true for discussing the antecedents and consequences of frames.
Fourth, we do not know much about how visual elements are incorporated in frames, though they are arguably quite important for framing theory. As Graber wrote, purely verbal analyses not only miss the information
contained in the pictures and nonverbal sounds, they even fail to interpret
the verbal content appropriatelybecause that content is modified by its combination with picture messages.76Clearly, framing scholars should contribute to the general discourse in the field about the role of visuals.
Fifth, the lack of reliability reporting in a vast amount of studies
poses a problem for framing research. As Riffe and Freitag argued, reliability is a necessary condition for validity, and improved reliability
reporting is progress.n Reliability reporting varies with method, frame
type, and journal, but it has increased. However, scholars must provide
more information about the type of coefficientsused, the samples for reliability tests, and the number of coders. More rigorous reliability formulae
should also be used.

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In sum, we have gained insights about the state of the art in media Conclusion
framing research. Some are merely descriptive; others can be used as a
basis for further scholarly debate. However, there are limitations to this
study. Among these, perhaps the most critical is that the results of this
study are influenced by the selection of journals, excluding book chapters and monographs. In fact, many of the problems revealed in this article have been addressed in those publications. Furthermore, the categories used here had to be general enough so that they could be applied
to every study sampled, possibly not doing justice to the richness of
individual studies.
A related shortcoming is the exclusion of (non-content analytical)
studies dealing with framing effects and strategic frames of communicators. To understand how media frames are related to other contexts,
these studies could provide rich insights. Finally, sample sizes for the
comparisons made in this paper are sometimes small, and therefore,
some results have to be treated with a good deal of caution. It should be
noted that the sample includes the first studies on framing published in
our field. As some results indicate, many things have changed over the
years, and more recent studies might have solved the conceptual and
methodological problems of framing research. Their number, however,
is still too small to leave a significant mark in this analysis. Indeed, the
present analysis might contribute to that change by pushing framing
scholars to move forward in order to fertilize, to advance, and to challenge framing research for the next fifteen years.
NOTES
1. Daniel Riffe, An Editorial Comment, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81 (spring 2004): 2.
2. Robert M. Entman, Framing:Toward Clarification of a Fractured
Paradigm, Journal of Communication 43 (autumn 1993): 51-58.
3. Paul DAngelo, News Framing as a Multi-paradigmatic Research Program: A Response to Entman, Journal of Communication 52
(December2002): 870-88.
4. Stephen D. Reese, The Framing Project: A Bridging Model for
Media Research Revisited, Journal of Communication 57 (March 2007):
149.
5. DAngelo, News Framing.
6. Reese, The Framing Project, 152.
7. Robert M. Entman, Jorg Matthes, and LYM Pellicano, Nature,
Sources, and Effects of News Framing, in Handbook of Journalism
Studies, ed. Karin Wahl-Jorgenson, and Thomas Hanitzsch (New York,
NY Routledge, 2009), 175-90.
8. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the
Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1980), 7. Another example is Gamson and Modiglianis frequently quoted definition of framing as the central organizing idea or story

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line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events. See William


A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani, The Changing Culture of Affirmative
Action, in Research in Political Sociology, ed. Richard G. Braungart and
Margaret M. Braungart (Greenwich, CT JAI Press, 1987), 143.
9. Entman, Framing, 52, original emphasis.
10. Entman, Matthes, and Pellicano, Nature, Sources, and Effects,
176.
11. L. Paul Husselbee and Larry Elliot, Looking Beyond Hate: How
National and Regional Newspapers Framed Hate Crimes in Jasper, Texas,
and Laramie, Wyoming, Journalism 6 Mass Communication Quarterly 79
(winter 2002): 833-52.
12. Zhongdang Pan and Gerald M. Kosicki, Framing Analysis: An
Approach to News Discourse, Political Communication 10 (spring 1993):
55-76.
13. Cyntha King and Paul Lester, Photographic Coverage during the
Persian Gulf and Iraqi Ears in Three U.S. Newspapers, Journalism &Mass
Communication Quarterly 82 (autumn 2005): 623-37; Lynda Jean Kensicki,
Deaf President Now! Positive Media Framing of a Social Movement
within a Hegemonic Political Environment, Journal of Communication
Inquiry 25 (summer 2001): 147-66.
14. E.g., Jorg Matthes and Matthias Kohring, The Content Analysis of
Media Frames: Toward Improving Reliability and Validity, Journal of
Communication 58 (summer 2008): 258-79.
15. Frank Esser and Paul DAngelo, Framing the Press and the
Publicity Process. A Content Analysis of Metacoverage in Campaign 2000
Network News, American Behavioral Scientist 46 (January 2003): 617-41;
Marie Hardin, Susan Lynn, Kristie Walsdorf, and Brent Hardin, The
Framing of Sexual Difference in SI for Kids Editorial Photos, Mass
Communication & Society 5 (August 2000): 341-59; King and Lester,
Photographic Coverage; Kensicki, Deaf President Now!
16. John Parmelee, Presidential Primary Videocassettes: How
Candidates in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Primary Elections Framed Their
Early Campaigns, Political Communication 19 (autumn 2002): 317-31;
Jisuk Woo, Television News Discourse in Political Transition: Framing
the 1987 and 1992 Korean Presidential Elections, Political Communication
13 (spring 1996): 63-80; Zhongdang Pan, Chin-Chuan Lee, Joseph Man
Chan, and Clement Y.K. So, One Event, Three Stories: Media Narratives
of the Handover of Hong Kong in Cultural China, Gazette: The
International Journalfor Communication Studies 61 (summer 1999): 99-112;
Federico Boni, Framing Media Masculinities. Mens Lifestyle Magazines
and the Biopolitics of the Male Body, European Journal of Communication
17 (winter 2002): 465-78.
17. Serena Carpenter, U.S. Elite and Non-elite Newspapers Portrayal
of the Iraq War: A Comparison of Frames and Source Use, Journalism &
Mass Communication Quarterly 84 (winter 2007) 761-76.
18. Matthew R. Kerbel, Sumaiya Apee, and Marc Howard Ross, PBS
Aint So Different. Public Broadcasting, Election Frames, and Democratic
Empowerment, The Harvard lnternational Journal of PresslPolitics 5 (2000
winter): 8-32.

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19. Daniela V. Dimitrova and Jesper Stromback, Mission Accomplished? Framing of the Iraq War in the Elite Newspapers in Sweden
and the United States, Gazette: The International Journal for
Communication Studies 67 (October 2005):399-417.
20. Kerbel, Apee, and Ross, PBS Aint So Different, 15.
21. Husselbee and Elliot, Looking Beyond Hate.
22. Claes H. de Vreese, News Framing: Theory and Typology,
Information Design Journal + Document Design 13 (2005):48-59.
23. Laureen R. Tucker, The Framing of Calvin Klein, Critical Studies
in Mass Communication 15 (summer 1998): 141-57; Stephen Reese and
Bob Buckalew, The Militarism of Local Television: The Routine Framing of the Persian Gulf War, Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12
(March 1994):40-59; Dhavan V.Shah, Mark D. Watts, David Domke, and
David P. Fan, News Framing and Cueing of Issue Regimes: Explaining
Clintons Public Approval in Spite of Scandal, Public Opinion Quarterly
66 (fall 2002): 339-70.
24. Shanto Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames
Political Issues (Chicago:University of California Press, 1991).
25. Holli A. Semetko and Patti M. Valkenburg, Framing European
Politics: A Content Analysis of Press and Television News, Journal of
Communication 50 (spring 2000):93-109.
26. Paul DAngelo, Matthew Calderone, and Anthony Territola,
Strategy and Issue Framing: An Exploratory Analysis of Topics and
Frames in Campaign 2004 Print News, Atlantic Journal of Communication 13 (winter 2005): 199-219.
27. Joshua Greenberg, Opinion Discourse and Canadian Newspapers: The Case of the Chinese Boat People, Canadian Journal of Communication 25 (winter 2000): 517-37.
28. David Roskos-Ewoldsen, Review of the Book Framing Public
Life: Perspectives on Media and our Understanding of the Social
World, Journal of Communication 53 (December 2003): 340.
29. Entman, Framing. Antecedents and consequences are also
taken into account in other meta-studies, e.g., Daniel Riffe and Allan
Freitag, A Content Analysis of Content Analyses: Twenty-FiveYears of
Journalism Quarterly, Journalism &Mass Communication Quarterly 74 (autumn 1997): 515-24.
30. Robert M. Entman, Cascading Activation: Contesting the White
Houses Frame after 9/ 11,Political Communication 20 (winter 2003):41532; Regina M. Marchi, Reframing the Runway. A Case Study of the
Impact of Community Organizing on News and Politics, Journalism 6
(winter 2005):465-85.
31. Trudie Richards and Brent King, An Alternative to the Fighting
Frame in News Reporting, Canadian Journal of Communication 25 (winter 2000): 479-96; Parmelee, Presidential Primary Videocassettes.
32. Hans-Bernd Brosius and Peter Eps, Prototyping through Key
Events. News Selection in the Case of Violence against Aliens and
Asylum Seekers in Germany, European Journal of Communication 10
(September 1995): 391-412; John D. Richardson and Karen M.
Lancendorfer, Framing Affirmative Action. The Influence of Race on
WHATS
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Newspaper Editorial Responses to the University of Michigan Cases,


Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 9 (October 2004):74-94.
33. Claes H. de Vreese, The Spiral of Cynicism Reconsidered, European Journal of Communication 20 (September 2005): 283-301; Rens
Vliegenthart, Andreas R. T. Schuck, Hajo G. Boomgaarden, and Claes H.
De Vreese, News Coverage and Support for European Integration,
1990-2006, International Journal of Public Opinion Research 20 (winter
2008): 415-39.
34. The terms inductive and deductive are used in a restricted
sense here. They refer to frame extraction only. Inductive means that
frames are generated as a result of the analysis; they are not (theoretically) derived beforehand. Deductive means that pre-defined frames are
coded, no new frames are generated. Thus, both terms do not refer to a
studys general reasoning or to broad epistemological orientations.
Studies that are treated as inductive (or deductive) here do not necessarily take a purely inductive (or deductive) approach.
35. Douglas Downs, Representing Gun Owners. Frame Identification
as Social Responsibility in News Media Discourse, Written Communication 19 (January 2002): 44-75; Alice Hall, The Mass Media, Cultural
Identity, and Perceptions of National Character: An Analysis of Frames in
US and Canadian Coverage of Audiovisual Materials in the GATT,
Gazette: The International Journal for Communication Studies 62 (summer
2000): 231-49; Reese and Buckalew, The Militarism of Local Television;
Tucker, The Framing of Calvin Klein.
36. E.g., Nancy Worthington, A Division of Labor: Dividing Maternal
Authority from Political Activism in the Kenyan Press, Journal of Communication Inquiry 25 (April 2001): 167-83.
37. Roya Akhavan-Majid and Jyotika Ramaprasad, Framing Beijing.
Dominant Ideological Influences on the American Press Coverage of the
Fourth UN Conference on Women and the NGO Forum, Gazette: The
International Journalfor Communication Studies 62 (February 2000): 45-69.
38. Adam Simon and Michael Xenos, Media Framing and Effective
Public Deliberation, Political Communication 17 (October 2000): 613-24;
Husselbee and Elliot, Looking Beyond Hate.
39. Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible?
40. Baldwin van Gorp, Where is the Frame? Victims and Intruders in
the Belgian Press Coverage of the Asylum Issue, European Journal of
Communication 20 (fall 2005):485-50.
41. Matthes and Kohring, Content Analysis.
42. M. Mark Miller, Julie L. Andsager, and Bonnie P. Riechert,
Framing the Candidates in Presidential Primaries: Issues and Images in
Press Releases and News Coverage, Journalism b Mass Communication
Quarterly 75 (summer 1998): 312-24; M. Mark Miller, Frame Mapping
and Analysis of News Coverage of Contentious Issues, Social Science
Computer Review 15 (winter 1997): 367-78; Julie Andsager, How Interest
Groups Attempt to Shape Public Opinion with Competing News
Frames, Journalism b Mass Communication Quarterly 77 (autumn 2000):
577-92.
43. Miller, Andsager, and Riechert, Framing the Candidates.

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44.Amy E. Jasperson, Dhavan V. Shah, Mark Watts, Ronald J. Faber,


and David P. Fan, Framing and the Public Agenda: Media Effects on the
Importance of the Federal Budget Deficit, Political Communication 15
(March 1998): 205-24; Shah et al., News Framing; Dennis T. Lowry,
Network TV News Framing of Good vs. Bad Economic News under
Democrat and Republican Presidents: A Lexical Analysis of Political
Bias, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 85 (autumn 2008): 48398.
45. Jasperson et al., Framing and the Public Agenda; Shah et al.,
News Framing.
46.See also Riffe and Freitag, A Content Analysis, that used similar
variables in their content analysis of content analyses.
47. Since many studies reported more than one definition, up to three
definitions were coded. If an operational definition was presented and
other definitions were named as well, only the operational definition was
coded. If several operational definitions were equally present, they were
coded according to their order in the text.
48. Regina L. Lawrence, Game-Framing the Issues: Tracking the
Strategy Frame in Public Policy News, Political Communication 17 (summer 2000): 93-114; Christiane Eilders and Albrecht Luter, Germany at
War: Competing Framing Strategies in German Public Discourse,
European Iournal of Communication 15 (September 2000): 415-28; Lynda
Jean Kensicki, No Cure for What Ails Us: The Media-constructed
Disconnect between Societal Problems and Possible Solutions, Journalism
6 Muss Communication Quarterly 81 (spring 2004) 53-73.
49. In contrast to this coding, Riffe and Freitag, A Content Analysis,
also treated research questions as indicators of theory. However, hypotheses aim at theory testing and research questions aim at theory development. Thus, hypotheses are a stronger indicator of a theorys presence
than research questions. Furthermore, it was not distinguished if a study
reports both hypotheses and research questions. When hypotheses were
present, hypothesis use = 1was coded no matter if research questions
were also present. When no hypothesis were present, hypothesis use =
0 was coded.
50. James W. Tankard, An Empirical Approach to the Study of Media
Framing, in Framing Public Life: Perspectives on Media and Our
Understanding of the Social World, ed. Stephen D Reese, Oscar H Gandy,
and August E Grant (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001),
98.
51. Matthes and Kohring, Content Analysis.
52. In a first full round of coding, a reliability check of an 8% random
sample with a second coder yielded insufficient reliability. Therefore, all
problematic variables were carefully recoded in an extensive second
round of coding working with a more refined codebook. Before the second round, a second 10%random sample reliability check was conducted
with a graduate student who underwent extensive training on the codebook.
53. Andrew F. Hayes and Klaus Krippendorff, Answering the Call for
a Standard Reliability Measure for Coding Data, Communication Methods

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and Measures (1,2007): 77-89.


54. This resulted in reliability of a = .98 for the identification variables
(average score), a = .82 for the type of frame, a = .75 for the unit of analysis, a = .95 for the number of frames, a = .82 for the definition of frames
(average over three definitions), a = .75 for the presence of multiple or
single frames, a = .75 for use of definition (average over three definitions),
a = .80 for use of visuals, a = .90 for hypothesis tests, a = .80 for
antecedents and consequences (average), and an average a = .83 for
method variables.
55. Entman, Framing; Robert Entman, Projections of Power: Framing
News, Public Opinion and US. Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2004).
56. Gamson and Modigliani, The Changing Culture of Affirmative
Action; William A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani, Media Discourse
and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach,
American Journal of Sociology 95 (July 1989): 1-37; also William A. Gamson,
Talking Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
57. Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching.
58. Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible?
59. This problem occurred when frames were just described without
detailing how they were coded or extracted.
60. It was not distinguished, however, if generic frames were given
different names but meant the same thing. This is hard to reliably code.
61. The author wishes to thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting
this typology.
62. Studies coding visual units only are excluded for this typology due
to small sample size. Type A studies are not further discussed for the same
reason.
63. However, this suggestion cannot be tested with the present data
because of the small sample sizes.
64.The aim of this cluster analysis is to find groups of articles that
have similar (not necessarily identical) approaches. Of course, grouping
articles might do injustice to the uniqueness of methods that are applied
in single studies. But cluster analysis is the method of choice to develop a
broad, standardized, and data-based typology.
65. Merging the fourth with the third cluster would result in a step
increase of heterogeneity within the cluster.
66. Riffe and Freitag, A Content Analysis; Matthew Lombard,
Jennifer Snyder-Duch, and Cheryl Campanella Bracken, Content
Analysis in Mass Communication: Assessment and Reporting of Intercoder Reliability, Human Communication Research 28 (October 2002): 587604. Riffe and Freitag analyzed 486 content analytical studies in Journalism
b Mass Communication Quarterly from 1971-1995. According to their
results, 56% of all studies reported intercoder reliability. For the period of
1991-1995, however, 72% report reliability data. In a similar study,
Lombard, Snyder-Duch, and Bracken assessed the reporting of reliability
data in 200 studies in the mass communication literature between 1994
and 1998. They found that 69% of all articles contained any report of intercoder reliability.

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67. There is, of course, no reliability reporting in computer-assisted


content analysis.
68. Journalism b Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Political Communication, Mass Communication b Society, Harvard International Journal of PresslPolitics, American Behavioral Scientist.
69. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, Journal of Communication
Inquiry, Journalism.
70. European Journal of Communication, Infernational Communication
Gazette, Communications.
71. Although the small sample sizes must be taken into account, it can
be stated that Journalism b Mass Communication Quarterly is a benchmark
journal in terms of reliability reporting: 80% of all articles published in
that journal include details about intercoder reliability.
72. Dennis Chong and James N. Druckman, "Framing Theory," Annual
Review of Political Science 10 (2007), 107.
73. DAngelo, "News Framing."
74. Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow, "Framing Processes and
Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment," Annual Review of
Sociology 26 (2000):611-39.
75. Robert M. Entman, "Framing U.S. Coverage of International News:
Contrasts in Narratives of the KAL and Iran Air Incidents," Journal of
Communication 41 (winter 1991):7; Pan and Kosicki, "Framing Analysis,"
61.
76. Doris Graber, "Content and Meaning. What's It All About?"
American Behavioral Scientist 33 (November/December 1989):144-52.
77. Riffe and Freitag, "A Content Analysis," 522.
78. Patti M. Valkenburg, Holli A. Semetko, and Clees H. de Vreese,
"The Effects of News Frames on Readers' Thoughts and Recall,"
Communication Research 26 (October 1999):550-69.
79. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: A n Essay on the Organization of
Experience (New York Harper & Row, 1974), 21.
80. Joseph N. Cappella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Spiral of Cynicism.
The Press and the Public Good (New York, Oxford: Oxford University, 1997).
81. James W. Tankard, Laura Handerson, Jackie Sillberman, Kriss Bliss,
and Salma Ghanem, "Media Frames: Approaches to Conceptualization
and Measurement" (paper presented at the AEJMC annual convention,
Boston, MA, 1991).

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