Figure A: Based off of the data gathered from six local news articles concerning immigration within the past 30 days, we gathered that 50% had a neutral/descriptive tone concerning immigration while the other 50% had a negative tone.

Post by Shawn Donahue, Tayloe Carroll, Lily Gates

Framing is defined as a way that media uses a message or story and finds ways to have the audience interpret it. This can vary from positive or negative interpretations, it is ultimately up to those telling the story. This happens regularly, no matter the issue, on a national and a local scale. The topic of immigration is no stranger to the media spotlight. This analysis addresses the different ways media covers immigration on a local level. It will focus on coverage in Harrisonburg, Virginia where the refugee community is rather large. The analysis will assess if the coverage is mostly positive or negative, how the coverage could affect engagement of the public and how the coverage might affect political attitudes based on the frame. It will use articles from local outlets in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Our analysis is also based on the data shown above regarding the tone of the coverage, quotes, shares on different social media platforms etc.

 

Figures B and C: From exploring each news site’s social media pages, we found that The Citizen was the most active on Facebook in terms of likes and shares of their articles. The WHSV posted more articles per day than The Citizen, but their readers did not interact with the posts as much. Nuevas Raices is not active on Twitter and did not highlight their immigration articles on their Facebook.

 

Figure D: Consistent data across news sources of quotes could not be gathered. It seems that Nuevas Raices tends to be populated by more opinion writers while WHSV leans towards covering officials in positions of influence. True to their mission as being accessible to the citizens, The Citizen featured the most quotes from local residents.

Method and Findings

Our method for gathering information was through searching local news outlets for relevant articles, and then analyzing these articles for tone, quotes, and publicity via social media. During our search for local articles on immigration written within the past 30 days, our group was able to locate 6 articles that best discussed local issues regarding immigration. The fact that we could only secure 6 articles indicates that this issue is not a main focus for most local media/news sources in this geographic area. It also indicates that of the articles addressing immigration, only a small portion of them were written concerning the local context of immigration (as opposed to reporting on national-level news). After analyzing our articles, we can conclude that most were written with either a neutral/descriptive or negative tone towards immigration. There weren’t many reports written on official meetings or commissions, but were instead more focused on the local citizen’s voice. However, of these more citizen-focused narratives, original data was more likely to be found as opposed to articles simply reporting off of other reports. Of the three main news sources, The Citizen was by far the most shared/liked on social media, and Facebook tended to me the most used platform for these news sources to distribute their articles/engage with their readers

Framing Effects on Political and Civic Actors   

In recent years local media has made it a priority to attempt to engage its local citizenry. The local news outlets that were used are mainly run by those citizens. In many cases there is one news network that runs most local and national news in an area. In this case WHSV is the main source that the citizens of Harrisonburg regularly use. WHSV, like many local networks nationwide, have suffered from a lack of manpower. This has led to the trend of increasing hyper-local media coverage. Hyper-local media coverage is within a specific community, city or even neighborhood under the larger umbrella of local media coverage. News outlets like this can help bring issues to citizens attention, but probably are not extremely effective in getting a “call to action” reaction out of anyone, even on an issue like immigration/refugees. Though, most importantly, it could help those in power to address the issues facing them.

The Citizen is a locally run media outlet in Harrisonburg, whose intention is to talk about specific local news and issues in the city. It is run by citizen journalists and sponsored by local advertisers who believe in its mission. They run weekly stories called “Untapped Talent”, which are spotlights of immigrants who came to the United States and their skills are not being utilized. While these stories can evoke a certain type of empathy, they do not seem to have a very motivating aspect to them. They are instead a type of advice forum for incoming immigrants or those who are thinking about immigrating. Nuevas Raices, a locally run Hispanic outlet, brings attention to issues that the Hispanic community in Harrisonburg and Virginia face. Many of these articles are about issues like ICE raids, DACA and programs put on to help the community. Both outlets do have the potential and ability to bring these issues to the attention of civic leaders and politicians. The stories published show that there is still a problem facing the immigrant/refugee population of Harrisonburg. It shows that even with the progressive ideas of the city, there is still much to do. Immigrants skills and talents are being put to menial tasks that anyone can do. The articles show that the city does not seem to put their talents to use or bring up the issues facing them as long as they have a job and a place to sleep. It brings awareness to these issues even without an immediate call to action as previously mentioned.

Lastly these sources allow for those powerful actors to see a different perspective on the issue and can help them address it. This hyper-local coverage of immigration gives them a, somewhat, first hand account of what is happening. Take the Citizen, it dedicated an entire weekly story, written by immigrants, to show that they are not being utilized effectively, that is not on accident. Nuevas Raices’s main contributors are those in the Hispanic community, this further helps drive home their accountability. In an age of citizen journalism and 24 hours news cycle conglomerates, these sources are the ones that everyone should read and react to accordingly. This coverage allows civic and political actors to be able to accurately bring up these issues and attempt to address them. They have the proof and ammunition they need to make a change, it is up to them to act on it or not.

Local Media’s Approach to Immigration & Implications

The framing of an article, topic, or issue that is being given will have a direct impact on the audience that is reading it, making it a vital component of the journalism field. In the context of local news coverage on immigration in Harrisonburg, half of the articles cited portrayed the system of immigration in a negative light, while portraying the immigrants themselves in a positive one. The Citizen, in particular, utilized this approach. This news source published profiles on three immigrants residing in the Harrisonburg area, all highly educated in their countries of origin; their jobs spanning from engineer to doctor to political geographer. However, all three of their educations could not be transferred to America, forcing them to work labor jobs in the Harrisonburg area. It is important to note that these articles published by The Citizen, the main contributors were the immigrants themselves. it was a first hand account given of the story.

Nuevos Raíces, a Virginia Hispanic Newsletter, and WHSV, Harrisonburg’s local news station, however, take a neutral approach to local news journalism. Each news outlet reported on the $250,000 Citizenship and Assimilation grant received by Skyline Literacy. The only difference between the two articles is the perspective from which it was written. Nuevos Raíces discusses the inaccessibility of English education to immigrants and refugees in the United States, whereas WHSV discusses the implications of this funding on the Harrisonburg community.

On the issue of DACA and the Dream Act, The Citizen has also decided to take a relatively neutral approach. This month, The Citizen published an article detailing the lawsuit being pursued by several attorney generals against the Trump Administration defending the program. This reporting was merely that: reporting. The article neither swayed left nor right, allowing the audience to form their own opinion on the topic being presented. This can have consequences of its own and was perhaps a missed opportunity. It could have been framed in a way that many would expect from The Citizen, pro-immigration. Instead it chose to be formal and not attempt to sway opinion when this tactic is desperately needed.

Framing Effects on Public Attitudes

Based on our class discussions and readings, local news sources act as a gatekeeper in that they control what the public sees or doesn’t see. By default, this means that local news sources can control the public’s attitudes towards immigration by selectively highlighting stories that are either heart-warming, saddening, or angering etc. For example, The Citizen chose to highlight stories of immigrants who had not reached the “American Dream” they had set out to find in Harrisonburg. These stories of struggle and underappreciation can cause the public to view the system of immigration as unjust and in need of reform. The Nuevas Raices instead chose to focus on more state and national level policies and how they would affect Harrisonburg’s community. This perspective could cause readers to lose faith in local government because it seems the fate of immigration lies solely in the hands of large-scale governing bodies. Lastly, the WHSV’s very descriptive and emotionless approach to immigration could cause readers to be indifferent to the issue.

These different news sources can subsequently warrant different actions from the public. For those upset or angered by negative portrayals of immigration, there may be more advocacy for changes in the system as well as a push to hire immigrants and vote for politicians who stand for immigrant rights. On the opposite spectrum, news sources downplaying the issues of immigration may cause their readers to take no action, or even to push against strong pro-immigration advocates in prioritizing other issues over immigration. The framing of a story is hugely impactful on how people will respond and what issues will make their way to the policy-making agenda of local government.

Conclusion

This analysis gave an inside look at how local news media outlets frame specific issues. The issue assessed in this case was how immigrants/refugees were framed in Harrisonburg, VA by these local outlets. We ran into the problem of not being able to find enough articles to fully put together an in depth analysis. Though, what we did find was that in many cases the frame for these articles was either negative or neutral. Our analysis shows that the way this information is framed it raises awareness of issues that immigrants still face, but at the same time can cause readers to not care. This is mainly due to all the articles lack of immediate urgency. If this research were to continue we would like to see how media coverage varies from city to city in terms of immigration and assess if it has the same results as Harrisonburg.

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