Date of Award

8-2005

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Edward Caudill

Committee Members

Paul Ashdown, Suzanne Kurth, Bonnie Parnell Riechert

Abstract

The study contributes to understanding of how a scientific controversy – genetic engineering – is treated in news stories in local newspapers. The findings provide quantitative evidence that local newspaper coverage of genetic engineering issues is framed in diverse and complex ways. Additionally, the analyses reveal that oppositional viewpoints exist in some local newspapers, perhaps more so than in national news. In contrast to studies of biotechnology news content in the national, elite press, this study suggests that a range of voices and interpretations about biotechnology do in fact exist in news media coverage of biotechnology in the United States, at least in some local newspapers.

The research specifically focuses on news media framing of genetic engineering and how stakeholders in the debate influence those frames. A computer-assisted content analysis was conducted on local newspaper coverage related to agricultural biotechnology. Semi-structured interviews with dominant stakeholders were conducted to augment quantitative evidence of news frames.

Methodologically, the dissertation introduces and elaborates the use of computer-assisted content analysis to determine frames related to biotechnology. The WordStat computer program was employed to systematically identify and analyze frames and frame changes over time. Moreover, unlike previous framing studies that have used cluster analysis, this study details the usefulness of factor analysis in statistically validating frames.

This study identifies and compares news frames in local newspapers in Northern California and in the St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch. News articles that contained keywords pertaining to genetically modified organisms (crops and food) from January 1992 to December 2004 were obtained for the analysis from the Lexis-Nexis Academic database. A total of 1,134 news articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was collected; 860 of these news articles were retained for analysis. A total of 508 news articles from four Northern California newspapers was collected; 296 of these news articles were analyzed.

Additionally, quantitative analyses of dominant stakeholders mentioned in both the Missouri and Northern California news articles were conducted. To supplement the quantitative findings, interviews with nine of the dominant stakeholders, or news sources, identified in the news articles investigated the stakeholders’ involvement in shaping news media coverage of agri-food biotechnology issues.

Substantively, this study offers some understanding of the place of dissenting voices in localized debates on genetic engineering. The discovery that local news frames stories on biotechnology in greater complexity raises larger questions about the importance and value of local and community news. Thus, the study addresses the vital need for investigating news content in local news media.

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