How to operationalize the Theory of framing in Journalism Studies. A
case stud!y: Journal of Communication (2009-2013)12.
ECREA – 6th European Communication Conference
Section: Journalism Studies - Abstract Number: EC16-0899
Enric Saperas (1), Ángel Carrasco-Campos (2)
(1)!King Juan Carlos University. Department of Communication Science and
Sociology. Fuenlabrada. Madrid. Spain.
(2)!University of Valladolid, Department of Sociology and Social Work. Segovia.
International scholarly associations and peer-reviewed academic journals have
always been involved in the main debates in the field of communication, and so they
have become the most influential institutional agents for the evolution of
communication research over the last decades. Therefore, both reference journals and
international conferences can be considered two of the most dynamic forums for debate
on the disciplinary status of communication and for advancing the theoretical
construction and methodological operationalization of the great paradigms of empirical
research. The aim of this paper is to present results of a work in progress (part of a
broader on-going research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and
Competitiveness) focused on the analysis of the processes of operationalization and
theoretical construction carried out in research articles published by major international
journals. Specifically, this report expounds findings on the case of framing research
published in the Journal of Communication. On the one hand, the selection of framing
as a case study is because this notion is one of the concepts with more theoretical
discussion and presence in empirical research in contemporary media studies and
1 This work forms part of the research project “25 years of Communication Research in Spain: scientific production,
academic community and institutional context” (INCOMES-25). Spanish National Plan for Scientific and Technical
Research and Innovation (20132016) (CSO2013-40684-P).
2 This paper was presented during the 6th European Communication Conference held by ECREA (Journalism
Studies Section) in Prague (9th-12th November 2016).!
journalism studies. On the other hand, the Journal of Communication is taken as object
of study by taking into account not only its international leading position, but also for
being a publication closely related to the International Communication Association, and
for the core role of its papers and special issues in the discussion and systematization of
the field of communication in general and, in particular, of the notion of framing itself.
Therefore, this study points to observe (i) the research objects, (ii) the methodological
operationalization, and (iii) the theoretical construction of framing in papers published
in the Journal of Communication during the period 2009-2013. A content analysis has
been specifically designed for the observation of empirical research, and applied to a
total of 50 original articles distributed in 26 issues of this journal. Findings reveal some
uniformity in the objects of study investigated by the concept of framing, particularly in
relation to those considered "classics" in journalism studies: media coverage of current
events, news and information; all of this considering the partial transformation of these
classic objects with regards to the changes that occurred in a digital context (journalism
professional activity in change: journalism 2.0, citizen journalism, the crisis of
journalism). Regarding the theoretical and methodological operationalization processes,
a significant standardization in the framing studies analysed is observed, taking into
account the broad recognition of framing as standard theory, and also considering its
main empirical character, by means of quantitative and experimental research
modalities. Therefore, framing research published by a top journal such as the Journal
of Communication can be currently defined as an empirical program in terms of
quantitative and experimental research, with a clearly delimitated theoretical
framework, focused on journalism in its different forms (news media coverage, political
information, electoral campaigns, etc.).
1. Operationalization as a core moment in scientific knowledge.
Operationalization has a central position in scientific knowledge as a process
by which a concept acquires a practical dimension to be applied to a segment of reality
that will be observed with specific methodological procedures. The operationalization
of a theory makes it possible to evaluate, calculate, classify or interpret social
phenomena. No other phase of empirical observation is so decisive to define a research
community such as operationalization, so this process makes it evident if researchers
share common and recognizable theoretical corpus.
In every process of operationalization there are at least, five phases: (i) the
conceptual definition of the phenomena that will be researched; (ii) the definition of
the research problem, in order to concrete operatively the object of study; (iii) the
selection of the criteria for the sample definition; (iv) the selection of indicators or
categories applicable to the empirical analysis; and (v) the interpretation of findings. A
systematic and complete process of operationalization terms warrantees a methodical
approach to reality in order to elaborate theoretical constructions by means of the
analysis of the obtained results. Therefore, operationalization must be defined as a
core moment in scientific knowledge.
In order to observe the operationalization processes in international
communication research and, specifically, in journalism studies (uses of theory,
research methods, objects of study), our research team at the Group of Advanced
Studies in Communication (www.geac.es) has developed two different research
projects during the last five years, by which a content analysis has been designed and
applied to major international and Spanish journals of communication (Martínez-
Nicolás, 2006; Martínez-Nicolás, 2008; Martínez-Nicolás & Saperas, 2011; Saperas &
Carrasco-Campos, 2011, among others). By means of these projects we aim to carry
out a distant and systematic observation of the disciplinary field of communication
through the papers published by major journals of communication, in order to detect
research topics, theoretical frameworks and methodological strategies used by
researchers. The objects of study of this research are the papers published by major
journals in communication. Therefore, we consider that these journals (such as
Journal of Communications, among others) are not only a mere mean of knowledge
dissemination, but also a main institutional agent in the delimitation of the field, the
theoretical construction, the definition a methodological agenda and, in a mid-term, a
common place for the academic debate of the disciplinary field.
2. A case study: the operationalization of “framing” in the Journal of
We have chosen the concept of framing in journalism studies in order to
observe the process of methodological operationalization of a relevant theory in
contemporary international communication research. “Framing” should be considered
one of the conceptual constructions with a broader development and diversity in the
last decades of media studies, and also for being one of the theories with a greater
presence in international communication research (Bryant & Miron, 2004; Weaver,
2007; Scheufele & Iyengar, 2012).
The journal article (paper) is taken as analysis unit, as it is a privileged mean for
academic discussion. The decision of focusing the study on the Journal of
Communication is due to its impact and its role as a reference journal, but also for being
a publication closely linked to one of the main scientific associations in communication
studies: the International Communication Association (ICA).
The leading role of international scientific associations as institutional agents for
the standardization of a dominant paradigm in communication research must be
emphasized. These kind of associations, most of them with an integrating purpose on
the whole of the international academic community, develop different key actions to
accomplish the homogeneity of research procedures. On the one hand, they represent a
strong model for the activity and routines of formal and informal research networks, as
they are supposed to be a forum for mutual dialogue and interconnected work in a
global context (even structuring the different researchers by thematic criteria, according
to interests and objects of study). On the other hand, they act as legitimate and
recognizable institutional actors in the exchange and dissemination of knowledge, not
only by the publication of papers in journals, but also through the organization of
International Conferences and the edition of proceedings. Additionally, as a valid
scientific interlocutor, these associations must be defined as institutional forums for
scientific activity from an autonomous position, as they are conformed as sectorial
3. Coding process and research objectives.
Our research has been conducted by content analysis, by which we studied the
papers published in the Journal of Communication that (i) manifestly make use of the
concept of framing in their theoretical framework, and more specifically (ii) can be
identified under the broad category of journalism studies (news coverage, political
information, citizen journalism, etc).
A specific coding sheet was designed, based on previous research carried out in
recent years regarding the study and the description of the contents and the institutional
role of major academic journals (Carrasco-Campos & Saperas, 2013 and 2014b;
Martínez-Nicolás & Saperas, 2011) and the evolution of the disciplinary field of Media
Studies during the last decade (Carrasco-Campos & Saperas, 2014a). The coding sheet
includes 8 variables and 143 indicators, structured into five categories:
1.!Identification of the units of analysis, according to the year, volume and issue of
publication by the Journal of Communicaction.
2.!Identification of research modalities, distinguising between empirical research
by quantitative techniques, empirical research by qualitative techniques,
empirical research by case study, empirical research by experimental
techniques, theoretical or conceptual research, and studies on the content of
peer-reviewed journal articles.
3.!Identification of objects, by a list of 41 units already tested in previous research
studies (Carrasco-Campos & Saperas, 2013).
4.!Identification of methodology, by means of a list of 53 research techniques
applied in international communication research, as we tested in previous
research (Carrasco-Campos & Saperas, 2013 and 2014b; Saperas & Carrasco-
5.!Identification of theoretical construction procedures, distinguishing between
uses of framing as a standard theory, and lexical uses of framing (scientific
jargon), referring to “frame” as a part of the communication process, or to the
effects of frames or framing in audiences (Borah, 2011: 253).
Regarding the coding applied, we define the research objectives (RO) as follows:
RO1.: Determine the presence of framing research papers and the presence of
framing research on journalism studies published by the Journal of
Communication during the period of analysis (2009-2013).
RO2.: Analyse the research methods and techniques used in the papers
submitted for analysis.
RO3.: Identify the theoretical construction processes in framing research in the
4.1. Distribution of framing research papers in the Journal of Communication (2009-
Framing research is one of the most common topics analysed during the five
years: Journal of Communication edited 50 papers in 26 different issues during the
period of analysis, with an average of 1.92 papers per volume and a mode of 2 papers
per volume. It must be considered a relevant amount of framing research articles,
particularly considering that the Journal of Communication edits between 8 and 10
papers by issue in its "Original articles" section. In addition, it is observed that, usually,
in every issue we can find at least one article on framing research. However, figure 1
shows a relative dispersion in the presence of articles during the analysed period.
Fig. 1. Distribution of framing research papers. Journal of Communication (2009-2013).
Source: own elaboration.
This presence varies from the 5 articles published in Vol. 60/3 2010 to its
absence in three subsequent issues, edited in 2011 (vol. 61/2), 2012 (vol. 62/3) and 2013
(vol. 63/3). Consequently, these results are merely descriptive and refer only to a
limited period, thus we are not able to conclude long-term trends (this purpose is one of
the main objectives of our research project in progress).
4.2. Objects of study: the relevance of journalism studies in framing research.
Journalism studies have always been one of the most prominent fields in
communication research. In addition, this topic is closely linked to the origins of the
notion of framing, especially from a sociological perspective (Entman, 1991 and 1993;
Shoemaker & Reese, 1991, Gamson, 1992, Edelman, 1993; Pan & Kosicki, 1993,
Reese, Gandy & Grant, 2001).
In this case we can observe (fig. 2) the pre-eminence of journalism studies by a
remarkable diversification of objects in three recurring areas: political information,
media coverage (of political and non-political events), and health information and
Fig. 2. Distribution of framing research papers. Journal of Communication (2009-2013).
Source: own elaboration.
In precision, 26% of the observed papers are in the field of political journalism
through three modalities: media polarization and coverage of current political events,
journalistic information during electoral campaigns, and political communication and
public debates in social media and online political debates. To this aggregation of cases
we should add, with a presence of 28%, another close modality: media coverage of non-
political current events in both conventional and digital media (immigration, gender,
infotainment, stereotypes in journalistic discourse, risk perception, comparative studies
of media coverage, and media coverage in its broadest sense), and journalism as a
newsmaking professional activity (news sources, credibility, practices and values of
journalism profession, digital transition in professional practices, online journalism and
information). This significant dominant group of journalistic objects of study is
completed with the relevant presence of health information and communication
research, achieving 16%.
4.3. Research techniques.
The analysis of research techniques and instruments presented below focus on
the 35 cases of journalism studies by framing observed, and collects data with regards to
the principal technique applied. First of all, it must be said that only one of the cases
analysed correspond to a theoretical study. In other words: almost all the cases of
framing research in journalism studies published by the Journal of Communication
during the period of analysis are empirical research. This contrasts to previous stages on
framing research, in which theoretical studies with a clear purpose of conceptual
demarcation were published by top journals (including, of course, the Journal of
Communication) (Iyengar, 1991; Entman, 1993 & 2004; D'Angelo, 2002; Reese, Gandy
& Grant, 2001; Reese, 2007; D'Angelo & Kuypers, 2010).
The examination of the specific techniques in empirical research (fig. 3) reveals
a majority use of quantitative techniques, among which stands content analysis (37,1%)
and surveys and questionnaires (20%). We can also appreciate a relevant presence of
experimental studies (14,3%), thus these main techniques form an important majority of
cases. On the other hand, qualitative research, by interviews (2,9%) and textual and
discourse analysis (8,6%), are very limited in the cases observed.
Fig. 3. Research techniques in journalism studies by framing. Journal of Communication (2009-2013).
Source: own elaboration.
This data allows us to point to a hypothesis for further research: the
standardization of framing research in journalism studies as an empirical program in
terms of experimental and, above all, quantitative research (especially by content
4.4. Theoretical construction.
As we described before, theoretical construction can be considered one of the
complementary stages of operationalization. This element is analysed observing the
uses of the concept of “framing” in the papers analysed, identifying if they use
“framing” as a standard theory, and the different uses for both cases.
Fig. 4. Theoretical construction in journalism studies by framing. Journal of Communication (2009-
Source: own elaboration.
The data collected shows that a great majority of cases (74,2%) use “framing” as
a standardized theory. With regards to this, we can state that (at least for the analysed
cases), journalism studies recognizes “framing” as a consolidated theoretical framework
for empirical research, and not only as a communication process or a mere research
lexicon. A more detailed analysis of the different uses of “framing” as a standard theory
would support this interpretation of the consolidation of framing in journalism studies:
the uses of framing both as exclusive (28,6%) and principal (17,1%) are the majority,
while generic uses of framing (11,4%) are very limited. Therefore, on the papers
published by the Journal of Communication, framing can be considered a mature theory
for journalism studies.
5. Discussion and future research.
As we defined before, the proposal of this research is to observe the
operationalization processes carried out in framing research in journalism studies
published by the Journal of Communication during the period 2009-2013.
Consequently, the results presented should be interpreted considering the significance of
the object of study, but without any ambition to achieve representative conclusions.
Regarding the limitations, this research must be contextualized into a broader ongoing
research project by which our research team aims to describe the operationalization
processes in major international (and also Spanish) journals of communication. In
previous research (Carrasco-Campos & Saperas, 2014b; Saperas & Carrasco-Capos,
20014) we have presented our first results regarding the Journal of Communication.
Specifically, in our recent study “The operationalization of framing in the Journal of
Communication” (Saperas & Carrasco-Campos, 2015) we analyse and discuss in more
detail the same topics studied in this paper, but for all the framing research during the
same period. Nevertheless, we are initiating a second stage by incorporating new
international journals and, also updating our database regarding the Journal of
Despite considering these limitations, the findings of this contribution points to
the relevance of the concept of framing in journalism studies published by the Journal
of Communication, a major journal which (among others) has developed a relevant role
for the delimitation and the organization of the disciplinary field of communication
during the last three decades. In terms of research interests, we should also stress certain
diversity of journalism studies (including health information), but pointing to the
relevance of political information and news media coverage. Regarding research
methodologies, quantitative and experimental techniques are the majority. More
specifically, content analysis is the most common technique in the cases observed. In
addition, the analysis of the uses of theory reveals the consolidation of “framing” as a
theoretical framework in journalism studies.
Summing up, and taking into account the three aspects of operationalization
processes analysed in this paper (objects of study, research techniques and uses of
theory), framing research in journalism studies published by the Journal of
Communications evidences certain standardization and maturity, in terms of an
empirical program by means of quantitative and experimental studies that assume
“framing” as a standard theory.
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