Framing ‘bad news’: Culpability and innocence in news coverage of tragedies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This study proposes a dichotomous set of frames, the Blame Frame and the Explain Frame, to examine how the news media cover sudden tragic events. The Blame Frame affixes responsibility on human agents and foregrounds the pursuit of punishment and justice. The Explain Frame takes responsibility away from human agents and describes the tragedy in terms of natural or quasi-natural processes. The study argues that social identities of “prospective” agents predict the difference in framing: “deviants” and “aliens” are held culpable while local elites are deemed innocent, although these identities are themselves social and draw on prevalent cultural beliefs. Ultimately, both frames serve to reproduce social boundaries and reinforce the status quo. Empirical evidence comes from the ideological analysis of the coverage of April 2013’s Boston bombings and the West fertilizer plant blast in local and national newspapers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 645-662
JournalJournalism Practice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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