We've replaced our news feed with a new blog, News Frames, which analyses how the news is semantically framed. For a taster, some examples of News Frames entries are posted below. (Visit our regular blog for all the latest posts).

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guardian-27-03-13April 29, 2013 - Over the past few days, I've been pondering the "austerity" frame, which currently seems to dominate political and economic debate. How to describe it as succinctly as possible? The best I can come up with is this:

In conservative ideology, "austerity" isn't a temporary economic measure, it's a permanent moral imperative.

It's like the "war on drugs". No matter how overwhelming the evidence of failure, it will still be pursued as policy, because the alternative is routinely framed as immoral (see below for examples). The Wikipedia entry on economic austerity won't tell you anything about this moral dimension, and most economics pundits will tell you little. Analysis of front-page newspaper stories and political speech can, however, tell us much...

Every day we're presented with a false moral dichotomy: Austerity vs X. What is X? It's both the disease whose cure is austerity, and the only available alternative to austerity. And it's framed as being essentially immoral. X is "government waste" on "dependency culture", "something-for-nothing culture", "living beyond one's means", "spiralling welfare spending", "benefit cheats", "benefit tourists", etc. Recipients of state "handouts" are placed on the moral spectrum somewhere between idle fecklessness and fraud/theft... [Continues here]

“Feral underclass”

Feral underclassSept 6, 2011 - On this morning's front pages we have a choice between the Guardian on rioting "criminal classes," and Daily Express "fury" over some judge's remark that squatters "are not criminals." The Guardian reports Kenneth Clarke's comments about a "broken penal system" and "a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism".

The Express reports a Tory MP saying “I am outraged" (over the judge/squatters).

In newsagents, you can sometimes observe people tutting and/or nodding in response to such "news". It's probably advisable to give a wide berth to people who exhibit such reactions.

"What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"
-- Plato, 4th Century BC

Alternative headlines:

“Scrounging families”

"Scrounging families"Sept 2, 2011 - The BBC reports this story under the headline, 'NUMBER OF WORKLESS HOUSEHOLDS FALLS'. The Express goes with "SCROUNGING FAMILIES', "anger" and "fury" - and again quotes the rightwing pressure group, the TaxPayers' Alliance (a regular source of framing for the UK press).

Here's the first paragraph on the Express's front page (2/9/11): "ANGER at the scale of Britain’s ­benefits culture erupted last night after official figures showed there are nearly four million households where no one works."

So, "anger erupted" at these official figures (from the Office for National Statistics, ONS). Whose anger erupted? Here's what the ONS figures actually show (courtesy of an ONS graph):


ONS workless 1996-2011 Note the fall in "workless households" since 1996, followed by an increase coinciding with the recession (shaded bar). Perhaps "anger erupted" over something else. The 4th paragraph on the Express front page says: "The ­figures yesterday triggered renewed fury at the £180billion annual welfare benefits bill being picked up by taxpayers."

This is the standard, misleading device of citing the total welfare bill in a story about the unemployed. It's misleading because only a small fraction of this amount goes on unemployment benefits (£6.6bn directly in 2010; two-thirds of the total welfare figure goes on people over working age, and there are various benefits for those who have jobs, and contribution-based benefits that need to be taken into account, etc).

(More detail and another graph here).

Alternative headlines:

How work is framed

"Workshy" Aug 31, 2011 - There are two frames for work: obedience and exchange. In the work-as-obedience frame, there's an authority (the employer) and there's obedience to the commands of authority (ie work). This obedience is rewarded (pay).

In the work-as-exchange frame, work is conceptualised as an object of value which belongs to the worker. This is exchanged for money.

Different consequences apply depending on the type of framing. In the obedience frame, the worker is expected to make personal sacrifices to the employer. This may help to explain why, each year, workers are giving £29 billion in total unpaid overtime to their companies (according to TUC figures).

(Consider also that the average worker spends 139 hours a year commuting - another sacrifice).

Remember that frames function “below" consciousness, according to the cognitive scientists. Why do people tolerate a situation in which income is dependent on obedience (to people they might regard as idiots)? Perhaps it's because our upbringing results (in most cases) in the work-as-obedience frame being a familiar part of our neurology (consider the paternal representation of school/employer).

In adulthood, this work frame infantilises us, and it's reinforced by the paternal-strictness type of attacks on the unemployed from politicians and media. Terms such as "workshy" and "scrounger" don't suggest people aged 45+ who have lost their jobs.

* Note: the above Express front page isn't today's - it's from our archives, 16/8/10.


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