Strategic Communication

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Writing a Media Analysis
Prepared for the Communications Consortium Media Center Douglas Gould and Company October 2004

Non-profit organizations and foundations need to understand the media landscape in order to gain a thorough understanding of how to present their positions on critical issues. Media analyses can be used to identify messages, examine how those messages are framed, and see how existing coverage of an issue could be improved. These analyses entail systematically taking a “slice” of media coverage from a set time-frame, often in the top daily newspapers, magazines and broadcast news outlets. The coverage can be classified and analyzed to identify communication opportunities for nonprofits and foundations, and strategic recommendations can be drawn to help them effectively disseminate their messages. While a communications firm or a media expert can offer in-depth analysis of news coverage on a particular issue or group, if the suggestions below are followed, an analysis can be done in-house by foundations or non-profits, even those without a media background. A typical media analysis can answer the following questions: How do the media frame public discussion of an issue (by repeating various story elements, using common metaphors, quoting similar people, etc.)? Who are the main spokespeople on a particular topic, and how are they being quoted? Are they mainly advocates, policymakers, academic experts, etc.? How often are various spokespeople quoted and in what context? What topics are being covered, and what topics are being ignored? Which outlets are covering or ignoring an issue or organization that they should be covering? Is there a time of year when an issue or organization is more likely to be covered than others? Is a topic or organization front-page news, and if not, where in the paper is that topic or organization covered? Which reporters are writing on this issue/organization? What messages are being used? One recent media analysis entitled “Between A Rock and a Hard Place: An Analysis of Low-Wage Workers in the Media” (available at was a crucial first step in building a communications strategy to enhance the visibility of low-wage workers and the obstacles they face in pursuing the so-called “American dream.” Based on the findings of the media analysis, the suggested strategy for advocates was to reframe their messages to portray low-wage workers as important contributors to the economy, rather than as sympathetic victims.

Writing a Media Analysis


Some findings from this analysis included: The primary media frame is that the system – government and society at large – has failed low-wage workers. The media tend to tell sympathetic stories of individual low-wage workers in the United States, but don’t do many stories on the systemic causes of poverty. According to media depictions, low-wage workers are continually caught between a rock and a hard place -- with no place left to turn. In other words, their situation is hopeless. Radio and television outlets seldom present stories about low-wage workers. From these findings, some conclusions may be drawn about how to better communicate about low-wage work to help drive policy change. For instance: It’s a problem when low-wage workers are not covered in broadcast media because most people get their news from television. Organizations wishing to help low-wage workers should put special effort into developing stories suitable for broadcast, including providing visuals to television journalists and reaching out to radio talk show hosts. If the situation of low-wage workers is continually presented in the media as being hopeless, then there is little motivation for people to take action for change. Those who wish to assist low-wage workers must encourage reporters to write stories that suggest solutions to the problems of low-wage workers, or at least do not imply that those problems are intractable....
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