Episodic Vs. Thematic News:
A Study on the Perception, Preferences, and Affective Impact
of the Framing Effect on Gender

By Kristen Keane


News Links:
BBC NEWS
CNN
ABC NEWS
New York Times

Abstract
Results
Appendices
Introduction
Discussion
Acknowledgment

Method
References
News Links

Abstract
    The goal of this study was to find out which framing style of news males and females prefer. Participants included fifty-two college age Saint Anselm College Students, seventeen of which were males and thirty-five of which were females.  The fifty-two participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups (Group A and Group B), with both genders represented in each group.  Group A viewed a thematic framed news story recorded from CNN.  Group B watched an episodic based news story recorded from NBC Nightly News.  Both stories were on the same topic and event, with a running time of six minutes.  After viewing the news stories both groups were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding what news medium they use to get their news information and what program they prefer.  They were then asked to fill out another questionnaire, which they had to answer brief questions regarding the news story watched.  Finally they received The News Viewer Reaction Questionnaire (NVR) (2003).  A 2 (gender) X 2 (group: news frame) ANOVA was used to compare the independent variables found in the questionnaires.  The data shows that over all episodic  news was preferred over thematic news, and males preferred both news frames more than women.  Contradictory to the findings of other studies, no significant differences in gender were found regarding affective impact of the news stories.

Introduction
    People watch the news to receive vital information about what is going on in our world.  We trust our news organizations to give us the facts and to bring our attention to want is important.  Spiro Kiousis' (2001) study of a random sample of Austin Texas residents surveyed audiences perception of news credibility by comparing  three different medium: online news, newspapers, and television.  Contrary to the findings since the sixties, television news was found to have the least amount of credibility compared to the other mediums.  Westly and Severin (1964) conducted a comprehensive analysis of channel credibility across media outlets.  They discovered that individuals do not necessarily prefer the most credible news.  This is why it is so important for news organizations to use care in the development of news stories, and programs they air to the public.  We also, must consider not only the content of the news itself, but also how it is presented to the viewer to create, firstly viewer and secondly the reaction that is needed. This study focuses on the framing effect and how it affects its male and female viewer.
Formatting A News Story
    There are different ways in which certain types of stories are portrayed to reach and affect the audience.  Agenda setting is defined as the ability of the news media to define the significant issue of the day (Iyengar, Simon & Reeves, 1997).  The framing effect is the connection between qualitative features of an issue and the invariably episodic or event oriented character news, and public opinion (Iyengar et. al, 1997). A news story can be framed in two different ways to capture the viewer's attention and interest on the most effective manner. 
    Episodic news uses pictures, symbols, an personal accounts to portray a story.  For instance, if the issue were unemployment, an episodic news story would most likely be an interview and personal story of someone who is unemployed and the hardships that they are going through.  In a thematic news stories the information is less personal and more general or abstract.  A viewer of a thematically formatted news story regarding unemployment would listen to experts in the field of economic and social services, with little to no visual stimuli like pictures and video clips.
    Slater and Rouner's (1996) believe that aesthetic qualities may enhance viewers perception of credibility.  This would lead us to believe that episodic news with its visually latent content would be perceived as more credible than other framing techniques.  However, Sotirovic (2001) had participants of her study watched television cable news and entertainment shows to see if there is a relation to typical biases in welfare recipients.  She found that by placing more emphasis on the individuating information and on sensational and entertainment values by using episodic frame, instead of using a more thematic, analytic approaches to issue coverage, the media is promoting different perceptions of the problem.  In Sotirovic (2001) found that by using an episodic frame individuals had stronger bias about welfare recipients, as compared to the viewer of a more thematic news frame. Thematic viewers tended to correct some of the typical biases regarding the welfare recipients having a better understanding of the situation.  Moreover, television viewing is associated with relaxation or escapist motivations there is a reduction in the agenda setting effect.  Since episodic news is more entertaining the viewer may not be as receptive to the information.  The information in thematic news is not necessarily paired with images so the viewer must give their full attention to what is being discussed to understand the situation.  Viewers who perceive television as informative are more likely to have their agendas affected by television news exposure.
Gender and the News
    Females will have a stronger reaction to the episodic news story than that of their male counter parts.  When shown photos depicting traumatic scenes, women remember more about the picture later than men (Canli, Desmond, Zuo & Gabrieli, 2002).  Even at the level of the brain Canli et. al., (2002) observed nine brain regions involved in both emotional experience and memory formation in women, and only two in men.  IN a study done on fear in television news white women were the most frightened of violent crimes than another group regardless of actual victim experience.  However, by seeing people like themselves on television news as victims they frequently had higher fear ratings (Chiricos, Eschholz & Gertz, 1997).  Roger Klein (2003) studied audiences' reaction to local television news from middle school aged children, up to senior citizens.  Klien fond that college age women, as well as women in general, were reported to prefer news to increase the number of positive news stories.  Teen age boys between seventh and eight grade would go so far as to switch the channel if the station they were watching had to much good news, and college age men were reported to prefer news to seek out and enjoy news with violent content (Klien, 2003).  These three studies greatly exemplifies that images affect women more negatively than men.
    Also Morgan and Shanahan (1997) as well as Potter (1986) found that sex is a moderator of cultivation effect, the results suggest that women's cultivation is more topic or content dependent than of males.  One can conclude that because of this, the emotionally high episodic format of news will impact women more than men.
Conclusion
    In conclusion there will be three hypothesizes to this study.  One, that individuals who view thematic news will be better informed than that of an episodic new viewer. The second hypothesis states that individuals who view the episodic news story will have a heighten interest in the news story. Thirdly, that females, more than males, will have a greater negative reaction to the episodic news story than to the thematic news story.

Method
Participants
    Thirty-five female and seventeen male Saint Anselm College students were randomly assigned to one of two group each with male and female gender represented. The participants ages ranged from seventeen years of age to twenty-three.
Procedure
    Ten Saint Anselm College psychology majors reviewed and rated the news stories for validity.
(See Appendix B questionnaire)
    Group A watched a short, previously recorded video clip of a news story with a thematic frame recorded from CNN.  Group B watched a previously recorded news clip with an episodic frame recorded from NBC's Nightly News.  Both news stories covered the bombing of a United States Suburban convoy, which resulted in two deaths in Gaza.  The running time of both stories were six minutes long.  Once each group watched the designated news story each individual filled out a brief questionnaire regarding what medium they used to receive their news and which television news cast they preferred.
(See Appendix C questionnaire) They then recieved a six question manipulation check, which asked factual questions about the information presented in the news clips they watched.(See Appendix D questionnaire)   The questions reflected information that was found in both episodic and thematic news stories.  The News Viewer Reaction Questionnaire (NVR) (2003) followed this.(See Appendix E) The NVR was developed for this experiment to receive feedback on the viewer feelings, interest, preference and affective impact regarding the news clip viewed.  This questionnaire was scored with a Likert scale relative to the participant agreement or disagreement of the statement provided (1 represented a strong disagreement to 4 representing a strong agreement). This was followed by a debriefing statement. (See Apendix A)  The materials that were needed was a room, a VCR, and two videos consisting of the two frames of news being tested.

   Results
    Ten students majoring in psychology at Saint Anselm College reviewed the news stories viewed in this study.  Significant differences between the two news stories were found, F (1, 36)= 4.74, p<.05, such that the thematic news story was rated 3.69 (M, SE) compared to the episodic news story 4.90 (M, SE).  A 2 (gender) X 2 (group: news frame) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to examine gender and news frames differences.  No Significant differences were found for gender or news frames regarding question 2 "I found this news story to be informative", 3 " I will continue to follow this news story", 4 "I was familiar with this news story before viewing it today", 6 "The news story was very very real to me", 7 "This story affected me personally", 8 "This story caused me distress while watching it", and 9 "This was a significant news story of the day".  Finding suggested a significant difference between news frames F (1, 48)=8.4 p<.05, for question 1, which states: "This news story was interesting to me". The thematic group was higher with a mean of 2.70 (M, SE) compared to the episodic mean of 2.14 (M, SE): the lower score equals a higher agreement to the statement.  A significant finding was also found in question 5, which states: "I enjoyed following these types of news stories".  In framing type there was no difference found however there was a difference in preference between genders, F (1, 48)=4.0 p<.05, males receiving a mean of 2.65 (M, SE).  Females recieved a mean of 3.23, which suggests that males had a higher preference for the story in general compared to females.

Discussion
    We have an obligation as citizens of the United States and the world to be educated in the world around us.  It is imperative that we get the most unbiased, credible and informational news possible.  We must all be aware of how news is primed and framed to suit it's viewer's needs. Also, we must understand how these different ways of presenting the news effects our interpretation of what we view.  The hypothesis posed in this paper was to find whether there is truly a difference in the way that episodic and thematic news formatting is preferred or rejected by views, and whether gender plays a role in the affect it has on its viewer.
    All of the individuals who participated in this study, although using other sources as well, found television as their prime source receiving the news.  Media critics suggest a trend in television news as becoming more and more episodic based (Leo, 1992).  This can be seen in the significant findings regarding question 1 on the questionnaire, which states : "Did this news story interest you". This finding suggests that individuals do find episodic news to me more interesting to watch. Interestingly, there were an equal number of people who said they received their news from CNN a notoriously thematic framed news organization, and from NBC a notoriously episodic framed program.  Further still, is the findings from question 5 of the questionnaire, which states " I enjoy following these types of news stories".  There was no significant finding between the group A and group B, however there were findings regarding gender differences.
    One could conclude that men preferred both news frames more than women.  This may be part to the findings of Klein (2003) who found in his study that women were more likely to change the channel because the content is to violent. When bad news is reported about a community  in which the viewer resides, it is correlated with the development of negative images about both the community and the news station delivering information.  Because females have reported feeling more anxious and worried about the news, and would prefer more good news one can infer that females are not watching news as much as men (Klien 2003). Although all the participants in this  study indicated that they watch television for their news information, it was not asked how many hours or times a week they view news programs.  We can only infer that males are watching the news more and longer than their female counterparts from the Klein (2003) study, which would indicate why the males in this study preferred both news and frames, or news in general more than females.
    Klein (2003) finding that males prefer and actively seek out news with violent content could be seen as a reason why males would prefer both news stories.  Other literature would also suggest that the reason why females scored less on a preference evaluation of the news story is because females impacted by violence and civil unrest, which both news stories portrayed.  Canli, Desmond, Zuo and Gabrieli 2002 study on the nine female brain regions involved in both emotional experiences and memory  and only two in men.  This would suggest that the violent nature of this news stories, viewed would have a greater impact on female viewers.
    Our findings however would suggest something different. Question 7 of the questionnaire states "This story affected me personally".  No significant finding were found.  Question 8 states: This story caused me distress while watching it."  Again no significant finding were found.
    This data collected directly contradicts the findings of both Canli et. al., (2002) and Chiricos et. al., (1997), who found that there were gender differences in the affect of news images to gender.  These finding also contradict the findings of Morgan and Shanahan (1997).  There not only was no difference found in the two genders groups but also there was no significant finding between groups, although on group saw more graphic images than the other.  There could be many possibilities for these findings.
    One hypothesis could be that story wad low in emotional context in which the story did not display a direct threat to the viewer. Another possible hypothesis may also be that fact that we have recently been bombarded with images from Palestine and other Arabic nations which violence is a daily occurrence.  Smith and Donnerstein(1998) suggest that the more violent images that one is exposed to the less sensitive we are to it.  Desensitization could be the reason why the participants did not respond to the news stories' violent content.
    In conclusion, in a democratic society such as this, the inhabitants of the society must understand and be knowledgeable about the world around them to make the best decisions on how they want their world to be. Viewers should not just be bombarded with theatrical, emotional provoking news, but views need to be getting the right and most important pieces of information possible.  Newsmakers have to know their audience to turn out the best viewing possible; however, once they have our attention it is their responsibility to present the stories that are relative and informative.  More needs to be studied on the effects news has on its viewers because it is such an important part of our lives.  Viewers must always remember to keep on open and critical eye on what they are watching and not be caught up in the imagery as much as the content involved in the story.

References
Anastasio, Phyllis, Karen Rose, & Judith Chapman (1999). Can the Media Create Public Opinion? A Social Identity Approach. Current Directions in Psychological Science 8(5). 152-155.

Canli, Turhan; Desmond, John E. ; Zuo Zhao; Gabrieli, John D.E. (2002) Sex Difference in the Neutral Basis of Emotional Memories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the United States of America 9(16), 10789-10795.

Chiricos, Eschholz & Gertz (1997) Crime News and Fear of Crime: Toward a Identification of Audience Effect. Social Problems 55(3). 342-257.

Cohn, Jonathan & Gabriel Weimann (2000) Cultivation Revisited: Some Genres Have Some Effects on Some Viewers.  Communication Reports 12(2). 99-115

Iyengar, Shanto; Adam Simon; & Richard Reeves.  Does the Meida Govern?: Politicians, Voters, and Reporters in America. London, New Deli, Sage Publications 1997.

Klein, Roger (2003). Audience Reactions to Local Television News. American Behavioral Scientist 48(12). 1661-1671.

Moscowitz, Leigh (2002). Civic Approach not so Different from the Traditional Model. Newspaper Research Journal 23(4), 62-75.

Oswarld, P. (2002). THe Interactive Effects of Affective Demeano, Cognitive Processes, and Perspective- Taking Focus on Helping behavior. Journal of Social Psychology 124(1), 120-133.

Slater, M.D. & Rouner (1996) How message Evaluations and Sources Attributes many Influences Credibility Assessment and Belief Change. Journalism Quarterly 73. 974-991.

Sotirovic, Mira (2001). Media Use and Perceptions of Welfare. Journal of Communication 51(4)750-775.
 
Westley B.H. & W.J. Severin. (1964). Some Correlates of Media Credibility. Journal Quarterly 4. 325-335.

Zillman, Dolf, Kay Taylor & Kelly Lewis (1998). News As Nonfiction Theater: How Dispositions Towards the Public Cast of Characters Affect Reaction. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42(2). 153-170.


Appendices
Appendix A

Debriefing Statement
    I greatly appreciate your participation in my study. The purpose of the study is to examine the effects of news framing on its  viewer.  In past studies, it has been shown, that the framing for the news stories attracts different audiences and will produce different levels of understanding to particular issues.  This studies' goal is  to identify whether or not gender plays a role in which type of news frame is preferred, as well as whether or not the viewer feels informed and impacted by the story.
    Equal numbers of male and female participants were randomly put into groups to view the news stories.  There were no right or wrong answers to the questionnaires, and I am only looking at group differences not individuals.
    To avoid creating a bias in the study I ask that you do not discuss details of this study until all participants' information has been collected.  Thus, I request that you keep all the information about the study quiet until mid November to protect the integrity of the study. If you have any questions or would like to know the results of m study, feel free to e-mail me at kkeane@anselm.edu.  Thanks Again!

Appendix B

Please Circle the number that best represents whether you agree or disagree with the statements below.

1. This news story uses visually stimulating examples (i.e. pictures and symbols) to portray information regarding the story.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

2. This news story uses general and/or abstract information.

1
2
3 4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


3.  This story uses personal accounts and/or specific examples to inform its viewers on the subject.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


4.  This news story uses experts on the issue to inform its viewers on the subject.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


5.  This news story has a definite story line, similar to a movie.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


6. This news story is lecture (or talking head) based.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree



Appendix C
 Number_____________

Male/ Female (circle one)

What medium do you use to receive your news (check all that apply)?

Newspaper________

Internet     ________

Television ________

Other (please specify) ______

If you checked television what news program do you normally watch?

CNN____
NBC Nightly News ____
CBS Morning News _____
Local News ___
ABC World News ___
Good Day America ___
Good Day Today ___
Good Morning America ___


Appendix D
Number _____

Please Answer the following questions about the News story just viewed to the best of your ability.

1. Where did the bombing occur? _______________________________________________________

2. Who was the target? _______________________________________________________________

3. How many people were injured or killed? _______________________________________________

4. Who was responsible for the bombing? _________________________________________________

5. How is the Israeli government reacting to the bombing? ____________________________________

6. How is the American government reacting to the bombing? _________________________________


Appendix E

Number ____

Please rate, and circle the number, which best represents the degree in which you a agree or disagree with the statement below.

1. This story interested me.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

2. I found this news story to be very informative.
1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

3. I will continue to follow this news story.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

4. I was familiar with this news story before viewing it today.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

5. I enjoy following these types of news stories.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree

6. The news story was very real to me.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree Highly Disagree


7. This story affected me personally.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


8. This  story caused me distress while watching it.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


9. This was a significant news story in the day.

1
2
3
4
5
Highly Agree
Agree
Neutral
Disagree
Highly Disagree


Acknowledgments
    I would like to thank everyone who participated in my study, if it weren't for the freshman pool none of this would be possible.  I would also like to thank Professor Flannery for all of her help and the tedious task or reading this thesis over and over to help me get it right.
    To Emily and Vincent for all of there patients and understanding, and Mia for her stress relief and company.  Also a huge thanks goes out to my humanities class for their sympathy during my time of need. Most importantly I would like to thank my Mother, Father, Ray and Danielle for all the love and encouragement.