In search of the creation of news frames in Flemish newspapers: The case of the Belgian ‘Syria warriors’
Author(s)Boesman, Jan; U0086780; ; ; ;
Berbers, Anna; U0089317; ; ; ;
d'Haenens, Leen; U0046656; ; ; ;
Van Gorp, Baldwin; U0060752; ; ; ;
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AbstractThis paper investigates the framing construction of Flemish newspaper journalists regarding the so-called ‘Syria warriors’, young Belgian Muslims who joined the rebels to fight against the Assad regime. The ‘Syria warriors’ became huge news in the popular press in Flanders when two recruits, Brian De Mulder and Jejoen Bontinck, turned out to be ‘ordinary Flemish boys’ converted to Islam. The idea that ‘It could have been your child (fighting in Syria)’ was used as a frame to bring the news to the Flemish audience. When the story progressed and spread from the popular to the quality press, other frames came into action. This study seeks an answer to two main questions: ‘Which frames are used?’ and ‘What is the origin of those frames?’ An inductive and qualitative content analysis, inspired by a constructionist view on framing, is used to identify the frames. By interviewing journalists in search of the origin of the frames, the researchers’ interpretations could be confronted with the frames intended by the news makers themselves. The question how frames arise is largely sidestepped in framing research. Only a few articles studied the production process of framing. Interviews with journalists made it possible to address questions relating to the influence of sources on the frame, the relation between news values and frames, and – when it comes to the choice of topics and angles – journalistic autonomy in the newsroom. This case study is part of a broader research project on the origin of news frames in Flemish newspapers, conducted in March and April 2013, the period in which the story of the ‘Syria warriors’ emerged. It collects material from four newsrooms, belonging to two different media groups (Corelio and De Persgroep), each with a quality newspaper (De Standaard and De Morgen) and a popular newspaper (Het Nieuwsblad and Het Laatste Nieuws). For a six-week period, the output of 20 domestic news reporters – five randomly selected per newspaper – was content analyzed. Semi-structured interviews, supplemented by newsroom observations, led to the reconstruction of 680 articles. Additional interviews were held with copy editors, news managers and editors-in-chief. Results highlight the influence of certain news values (exclusivity, proximity) on the framing of the ‘Syria warriors’. The early framing of Brian and Jejoen as ‘ordinary Flemish boys’ is seen as a journalistic strategy to create more commitment and identification potential with the complicated Syrian conflict. Furthermore, in centrally organized and top-down structured newsrooms, the process of frame-building is more guided by factors outside the individual reporter (e.g. decisions of the news manager and/or copy editor). Rather than being pushed to write a story in a certain way, reporters ‘internalized’ their newspapers’ way of news making. Lastly, the article discusses whether interviews with journalists about their concrete output is a useful method to investigate the production side of framing.
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