Posted by: robertheinz | April 18, 2013

“This looks like war” in the media as well

These words of 56-year-old runner Gary Allen described the scene near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.  His description turns out to be true for news performance as well, as images of the Boston Marathon Bombing are focused on casualties, destruction, and emotions through pictures of crying children or ailing elderly citizens. According to Neumann & Fahmy (2012: 180) these are all characteristics of a dominant war frame in visual news media. Additionally a prominent frame of “patriotism” can be found in news outlets as well. Opposing to Chrissie’s post, stories of heroism and selflessness following the bombings support a “patriotic” frame and further polarize the public to rally behind “us versus them”.

war frame in visual news

war frame in visual news

Contrary to literature on visual framing, suggesting that media from different cultural and political perspectives create different images of war and conflict, this seems not to hold true in times of crisis. Assuming the bombings as a newsworthy conflict, recent media performance shows signs of news consolidation similar to the aftermath of 9/11. Entman’s (1991) assumption that “photojournalist may follow guidelines of objectivity, but still communicate a dominate news frame” seems to hold especially true in current circumstances.

Is this loss of objectivity in media justified by using the power of visuals to influence public attention and perception to support national interests in times of crisis? Or do (private) media simply follow the public demand for patriotic heroism?


  1. Really interesting question you pose Robert. Regarding the point you make about different perspectives “not holding true in times of crisis,” I wonder if the international frames were the same as those in the US press about this event.

    • That would certainly be of interest, Donna. Personally speaking, many of the images from Boston I saw in German media outlets are the same pictures used in the US. This is not surprising considering the dominance of Western newswires in North America and Europe.

  2. I was intrigued by the article, and all last week I kept thinking about it as I watched hours of coverage of the bombing and the West, Texas fire. I was only an hour away from the fire so the coverage I was watching was very personal. In the middle of breaking news though, there is no thought given to “peace” or “war” journalism. You’re just trying to get pictures out and struggling to get facts. Journalism is always telling a story and what makes a good story is compelling emotional pictures and conflict. Otherwise we’d all be glued to the screen watching the city council debate sewer bonds.

    • Thanks Brenda for sharing your opinion on this. These constraints you mentioned, and journalism/media professionals are facing on a daily basis, certainly have to be considered. However, I wonder if such constraints (real-time reporting, conflict, emotions, etc.) are generally favoring a “war” frame over a “peace” frame. I am not judging current media performance, just intrigued by the relation of media constraints and framing.

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