Black, white, and blue : media and audience frames from visual news coverage of police use of force and unrest




Kilgo, Danielle Kathleen

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This study advances visual framing theory by uncovering the relationship between media and audience frames. This work uses recent media coverage of police brutality and social unrest to understand how audiences interpreted visual messages and frames, highlighting the differences in these interpretations for Black and White audiences. A secondary content analysis explores how digital news outlets portrayed the issue visually. In addition, this dissertation examines the role social media audiences play in redistributing media content in social media venues through sharing features. These research objectives were tackled using a two-part, mixed-methods approach. The first study utilized think-aloud interviews with Black and White participants to examine how audiences understood visual information. Results show media frames help organize information for audiences, while interpretations and evaluations of visual messages were less uniform. White and Black participants treated visualizations of police with increased skepticism. Participants also noted small details that indicate criminality for Blacks. Visuals also play a critical role in interrogating structure of the protest paradigm. Yet, evaluations of images within this genre of news varied considerably between Black and White participants. For White participants, rioting and chaos are primarily negative, while Black participants position their evaluations in more sympathetic, understanding terms. Non-violent visualizations also lead to various assessments. Black participants were overly-cautious of White thinking, acknowledging and opposing perceived negativity as a way of challenging the discourse they expect to encounter. These interpretations are evidence of dual-consciousness and confirm the consistency of a contest-and-oppose approach to evaluations. Whites are less likely to battle stereotypes or to oppose them through empathetic responses than Blacks. The second study includes a content analysis of digital news coverage shared on social media. Overall results for protest images were more likely emphasize the written demands of protesters and non-violent action of protestors than violence or sensational behavior. Identifying photos are also more balanced than expected. Regarding shareworthiness, visual messages did not affect social media audiences’ sharing patterns, though visuals that included human emotion were more likely to be shared on Facebook and Twitter.


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