Community Newspapers as Members of the
Local Growth Coalition:
Framing Discourse Surrounding Community Initiatives
Michael L. Thurwanger, Ph.D.
6415 N. Suffolk Drive
Peoria, IL 61615
Phone: (O) 309-677-2366
E-Mail: twanger@ bradley.edu
Community Newspapers as Members of the Local Growth Coalition:
Framing Discourse Surrounding Community Initiatives
The community newspaper has held a distinctive position in the
traditional image of the press in this country. The information and
local news provided by community newspapers was termed "the thing
that democracy has been made of" (Park, 1925, p. 13). But emerging
images of the community press suggest that long-established
perceptions had been idealized and that local mass media are not "the
independent, self-styled social agents that either they or members of
the public imagine them to be" (Tichenor, Donohue & Olien, 1980,
p. 217). Rather, one emergent view of the local press portrays it
as an instrument of social control within the community. This view
is not new, but the concept of social control itself has undergone
radical change. It has evolved from a benign role of ensuring shared
values and norms across society to one of a manipulative role in
preserving the status quo in the interests of those in power (Demers
& Viswanath, 1999). Representative of that shift has been a
transition from portraying community newspapers in a largely passive
role, "seldom initiating a position" until pushed by those in power
(Tichenor, Donohue & Olien,1980, p. 220) to a more active role as a
"sleeping guard dog" protecting the interests of the local power
structure (Donohue, Tichenor & Olien, 1995, p. 116). However, even
this "guard dog" role describes the local press as serving the
community power structure rather than being a significant participant
in the decision-making process.
Sociologists have waged their own battles over power structures
and the distribution of power within communities. On the one hand,
the pluralist model views community power as dispersed across various
social groups and institutions while the elitist model assigns power
to key figures who influence local governance by virtue of their
economic, social or political position. Logan and Molotch (1987)
provide an alternative model of community power, which brings in an
active local press. Central to the model is conflict between
opposing views of community--those who define community for its
economic value and growth potential versus others who frame community
in terms of aesthetic and lifestyle values. This results in
competition, pitting economic "exchange values" against quality of
life "use values." A local growth coalition, with landowners at the
core but drawing upon a wide alliance of businesses, political and
social institutions to enact policies centered on the community's
"exchange value." The local press is very visible in this coalition
as an active contributor to the its efforts (Logan & Molotch, 1987).
This study explored patterns of local newspaper coverage in
establishing the boundaries around public discourse through their
framing of a potentially contentious issue confronting rural
communities. It sought to identify key individuals and institutions
that played a prominent role in the framing process. These patterns
of coverage were then compared for their consistency with the local
growth coalition model.
Community newspapers. Janowitz (1991) identified the mass
media's role in democratic society as threefold: contributing to a
high level of participation, stimulating meaningful deliberation upon
which citizens arrive at voting decisions, and operating to preclude
one side from gaining undue advantage through the press. To the
extent that these ideals were missed, the democratic process does not
represent true consent but becomes "an exercise in mass pressure" (p. 245).
Park (1925) was one of the first to break with the traditional
image of the press as independent, portraying the relationship
between the local press and community as interdependent. Others have
noted the economic imperative for the newspaper to create a place for
itself within the community because the success of its product
depends on the interest and acceptance of community members
(Edelstein & Schulz, 1963; Kaniss, 1991). Banfield and Wilson (1963)
argued that the local newspaper's interest in economic growth
"inclines it toward boosterism, and inclines it also on occasion to
'play down' or even suppress news that would put the city in a bad
light" (p. 321).
Janowitz (1967) identified editors and publishers as central
to the study of community newspapers, providing insight into how
conflicts between competing local interest groups are
resolved. Webster (1987) described the publisher's position as an
ethical dilemma—balancing journalistic standards of objective
detachment versus the responsibility as a local leader to support
community development. Others echoed that concern, with editors and
publishers expected to uphold the image of an independent local press
but, as educated and influential members of the community, they are
also expected to be active participants in the community's
administration (Byerly, 1961; Fitzgerald, 1996; Gaziano & McGrath,
1987; Sneed & Riffe, 1991; Tuchman, 1978).
Though some suggest that publishers and editors are members of
the community elite, Donohue, Tichenor and Olien (1995) argued that
the community newspaper and its representatives do not participate as
equal members in the community power structure due, in part, to a
dependence on the local elite for access and information. Similarly
Janowitz' (1967) described community newspapers, not as part of the
power structure, but as an intermediary between individuals and major
community institutions. Far from a watchdog that scrutinizes the
actions of those in power, newspapers in small communities were
described as a "sleeping guard dog" protecting the status quo and
serving the interests of the local power structure (Donohue, Tichenor
& Olien, 1995, p. 116).
Social control. Early sociologists such as Mead, Dewey, and
Park all addressed a need for society to construct and maintain
shared systems of values and social norms. Dewey (1927) and Park
(1925) suggested that the press was one of the institutions that
served this function. Warren (1978) defined social control as the
"process through which a group influences the behavior of its members
to conform with its norms" (p. 10-11). This concept underwent
considerable change in definition and focus during the second half of
the last century (Janowitz, 1975, 1978, 1991; Roucek, 1978; Sumner, 1997).
Gamson (1968) viewed social control as a means of eliminating
or minimizing the influence of competing constituents through one of
two options—appeasement by meeting their demands, or control through
persuasion and other means. Both Dahl (1982) and Stone (1989)
addressed the costs and benefits of social control in terms of
political and economic capital. Dahl (1961) observed that where
competition has been removed by effective social control, political
entrepreneurs can more readily exert their influence.
Social control function of newspapers. McCombs (1997) cited
local media sources as playing a critical role in setting a community
agenda that emphasizes arriving at and maintaining consensus on
community issues. Janowitz (1967) found that community newspapers
served to maintain local consensus through an emphasis on shared
values rather then on the resolution of conflict. Internal conflicts
were viewed as divisive while conflicts with external forces helped
unify the community against an outside threat and legitimized the
role of local leaders in representing community interests. Breed
(1958) observed that local news coverage often conveyed a "chamber of
commerce attitude" (p. 111) in which newspapers served as local
boosters to ensure community support and attract economic
growth. This was reflected in editorial decisions against covering
failures or social aspects that undermined the community
image. Breed conducted what he termed "a reverse content analysis"
(p. 112) to identify those elements of news and information that are
regularly omitted from local coverage. The most frequent omission
was related to what Breed labeled the "undemocratic power of business
elites" (p. 111). He concluded that these omissions in coverage
served to preserve citizen confidence in the community and its institutions.
Mott (1970) identified information control as a vital resource
in establishing social control. He attributed that power to mass
media organizations by virtue of their role in identifying, defining
and articulating social problems. A number of theorists support the
view that community newspapers play a role in maintaining social
control by selectively reinforcing, legitimizing and endorsing
accepted views (Altschull, 1995; Carey, 1979; Donohue, Tichenor &
Olien, 1995; Janowitz, 1978, 1991; Lasswell, 1949; Shoemaker & Reese,
1996; Tichenor, Donohue & Olien, 1980).
Community Power. Two primary models of community power
structures have emerged. The pluralist model, favored by political
scientists, argues from a libertarian perspective that social power
is distributed to varying degrees among dispersed social groups
resulting in no single group ruling (Harding, 1996; Dahl, 1961). The
elitist school, favored by sociologists, identifies a dominant power
structure centered on social, economic and political elites who
control the decision-making process (Hunter, 1953; Mills, 1956;
Domhoff, 1998). Neo-elitist models, including the local growth
coalition, represent middle positions along a continuum between
pluralist and elitist extremes, which recognizes competition and a
mix of economic and political interests.
Logan and Molotch (1987) identified two simultaneous and
conflicting views of community to which they attribute much of this
conflict and competition. One view values community as a social
process in which people interact and live together in various
relationships. Conversely, community is often defined in terms of
geographic boundaries, land—its uses and development—and the economic
processes that govern community maintenance and growth. In this
sense, community is perceived as a commodity. The authors applied
the terms "use value" to describe the community identity and
lifestyle view and "exchange value" to represent economic and market
considerations. They noted that the two sets of values coexist and
the degree of emphasis on one over the other depends on the
community, the situation and individual perspective. They observed
that the struggle between proponents of these two views serves "as a
continuing source of tension, conflict and irrational settlements" in
communities in the United States (Logan & Molotch, 1987, p. 2). They
also noted that the legal and regulatory systems serving communities
largely reflect the influence of those striving to maximize "exchange
Local Growth Coalitions. The growth coalition model centers on
local economic development and hinges on cooperation between business
interests and local government (Elkins, 1995; Valler, 1995). At the
core of growth coalitions are property owners, termed "land-based
elites" or "rentiers" motivated by the need to maximize rents
generated through ownership of land and buildings (Logan & Molotch,
1987; Molotch, 1976). Local governments enter the growth coalition
as a means to attract outside industries and investors in order to
create jobs, underwrite public services and broaden the tax base
(Logan & Molotch, 1987). Others who stand to profit from the
land-use "intensification process" include developers, financiers,
construction companies, and those providing services to
developers. More generalized businesses are also drawn into the
coalition by the promise of increased demand for products and
services. Even labor unions join in this alliance to attract new and
better jobs and improve local wages. Finally, the coalition is
joined by a variety of agencies, termed "growth machine activists"
(Harding, 1996), including universities, various cultural
institutions, professional athletic and entertainment concerns and
A number of sources identify the community newspaper and other
local media organizations among those businesses that stand to profit
as members of the local growth coalition (Logan & Molotch, 1987;
Harding, 1996; Domhoff, 1998). Citing media industry trends, Molotch
(1976) observed that newspapers are unlikely to expand to other
locations so their growth is tied directly to the growth of the
communities they serve. Domhoff (1998) attributed local newspapers'
support of community growth to a constant drive to increase
circulation numbers and expand the advertising base. In spite of the
community leadership role often played by publishers and editors,
Molotch (1976) noted that they and their newspapers hold a unique
position as unaligned participants. Whereas communities within a
region or landowners within a single community may be in direct
competition, the newspaper endorses only the overarching position
common to all community elite: that growth is desirable. The
newspaper is typically neutral on the specific location of growth and
serves as a sort of local referee and arbiter (Molotch, 1976;
Domhoff, 1998). In this sense, the newspaper preserves the image of
objectivity, yet there is the underlying position that growth is
good. The critical frame in coverage of the issue, according to
Domhoff, is that growth creates jobs benefiting the community as a
whole and this serves as a unifying argument to overcome all
opposition. The underlying motivation of the core members of the
growth coalition–increased profit and land-based revenue to owners of
land and businesses —is seldom addressed in public debate or local
mass media coverage (Domhoff, 1998, p. 61-62).
Prison issue. During the past quarter century, this nation
experienced an unprecedented boom in its prison population and in
construction of the prison infrastructure to house it. In 2001,
state and federal prison populations in the United States exceeded
2.1 million inmates ("Illinois prison population," 2003, July
28). Prison has become big business and an industry unto itself
(Hallinan, 2001; Schlosser, 1998).
From 1980 through the most recent site selections announced in
2001, 27 state correctional facilities were built or are in various
stages of construction in Illinois. Trends over the past quarter
century in Illinois corrections reflected national patterns in which
the vast majority of new prison sites were built in or near small,
rural communities. This pattern of site selection served as a form
of economic subsidy for economically depressed communities while
meeting the state's need for expediency by locating traditionally
undesirable facilities where they were least likely to face organized
opposition (Gibbons & Pierce, 1995; Schlosser, 1998; Shicor, 1992;
Takahashi & Graber, 1998). Prisons have typically elicited a
"Not-In-My-Backyard" reaction in the past with local residents
expressing concerns about such issues as personal safety, threats to
community integrity from the influx of prison staff and inmate
families, and a "prison town" stigma having the potential to
undermine the community image (Carlson, 1988,1990; Krause, 1992;
Popper, 1981). While larger communities with more diversified
economic and political bases continue to oppose such proposals, small
economically-challenged communities now actively compete for
selection as a prison site. Local leaders work within these
communities to garner support and present an image of community
consensus fully supportive of the prison proposal (Schlosser, 1998).
Prison site-selection was chosen as the focal issue for this
study in light of the growing number of Illinois communities actively
seeking a prison. The clash between individual concerns centered
around "use values" and local leaders' desire to exploit community
"exchange value" for economic growth provided a likely source of
conflict in which the local newspaper could be expected to play an
active role. This study explored the role of community newspapers in
defining and framing discourse surrounding prison
site-selection. Were patterns of coverage, source selection and the
involvement of the newspaper in community activities consistent with
the predicted role of the local press as described in the local
growth coalition model?
Hypothesis one analyzed frames used in covering the prison
site-selection issue. From the literature, five common frames were
identified in discourse surrounding prisons sites. The
"economic-benefits" frame focused on the "exchange values" most
consistent with the agenda of the local growth coalition. The four
remaining frames were more closely aligned with "use values." To the
extent that the "economic-benefits" frame was dominant in coverage,
it can be argued that local newspapers reflected the views of the
local growth coalition.
H1: News and editorial content in the local newspapers serving communities
seeking prison site-selection will employ the economic-benefits frame more
frequently than competing frames.
Analysis of source attribution was also conducted to identify
those within the community who were most prominent in sponsoring
various prison frames. Once again, a pattern of source selection
largely overshadowed by institutions consistent with membership in
the local growth coalition would provide additional evidence of local
newspapers' support and role in advancing the coalition's agenda.
H2: News and editorial content in the local newspapers serving communities
seeking a prison site will employ a significantly greater number of
sources representing members of the growth coalition model.
Content was also analyzed for the dominance of coverage
favorable to prison site selection and consistent with the stance
predicted of local growth coalition members.
H3: News and editorial content in the local newspapers serving communities
seeking a prison site will employ a significantly greater number of sources
representing the views of prison proponents than of opponents.
In the case of all three hypotheses, the predictions are stated
in terms of dominance, but results were also analyzed to identify the
relative absence of opposition messages and views, consistent with
Breed's concept of a "reverse content analysis" (1958, p. 111).
The traditional method in framing research uses content
analysis to count the frequencies and patterns of identified frames
used in the content sample. This study employed content analysis to
explore the balance of coverage allocated to identified prison
frames. Incorporating frame analysis as a key theoretical component,
this study went further by analyzing source selection and the
direction or valence of coverage. Not only did the analysis focus on
dominant elements of coverage, it also focused on those themes and
sources largely absent from coverage in what Breed (1958) termed a
"reverse content analysis" (p. 111). In these ways, the study
attempted to more fully explore what Kosicki (1997) termed the
"ecology" of framing.
Sample. The sample for this study included 24 weekly,
semi-weekly and small daily newspapers serving Illinois communities
that successfully sought selection as the site of a state
correctional facility authorized between 1980 and 2001, with local
news coverage of that process beginning in 1977. Of the newspapers
serving these communities, 16 were dailies while eight were published
less frequently. The composition and size of the newspapers and the
characteristics of the communities they serve fit Byerly's (1961)
criteria for defining community newspapers.
A census was conducted of all news and editorial coverage
directly related to the prison site-selection issue. The period of
coverage was defined as beginning with the first article reporting
the state's initiation of a selection cycle or the first article
suggesting regional or community interest in seeking selection and
continued through official announcement of the site selection and for
two weeks thereafter.
Content Analysis. The sampling units for the study were issues
published during the defined period for that community. Only the
body text of news, editorials (including op-ed pieces and columns)
and letters to the editor were coded. A total of 897 articles met
criteria for inclusion in the sample. Individual paragraphs were
used as the unit of analysis. Coders counted individual paragraphs
and analyzed each as a separate unit of meaning in accordance with
the coding protocols.
Coding. Definitions and coding categories for each stage of
the content analysis were developed from the related literature.
Coding categories, rules and procedures were tested and refined over
several months of training to improve reliability. Coding sheets
required the coder to verify identification and content information
for the articles including the type of content, date of publication,
and number of paragraphs.
A primary coder analyzed all articles with a secondary coder
examining a random sample to measure intercoder reliability. Coders
were trained in all aspects of the analysis and protocols including
procedures, categories, and definitions. A random sample of 125
articles was selected using Lacy and Riffe's formula (1996) to obtain
a sample size sufficient to ensure valid reliability estimates and a
known degree of confidence. Both intercoder and intracoder
reliability for all categories were above 80 percent using Scott's
Pi, with the exception of intercoder reliability for the direction of
content, which yielded a 79.2 percent agreement. (See table 1.)
Percent intercoder agreement
Percent intracoder agreement
Prison Frames. The first hypothesis explored the relative
balance of coverage reflecting each of the five prison frames
identified through the literature review and refined in the pilot
testing process. Following the steps outlined in the coding
protocol, each paragraph was read and coded as an independent
unit. Coders were provided expanded descriptions of the five prison
• Economic-Benefits Frame. This frame focused on the impact of the
prison on the economic and employment prospects of the community and
surrounding region. Proponents of the prison emphasized potential
economic and employment benefits. Those opposed to the prison used
this frame to question the degree and distribution of such benefits
while raising concerns regarding potential adverse impacts including
reduced property values and a potential decline in local investment
by other industries choosing not to locate near a prison.
• Prison Social-Impact Frame. The prison social-impact frame
incorporated a variety of resident concerns and fears related to the
prison site-selection issue. Prison proponents generally
acknowledged these topics of concern but minimized their importance
or likelihood. Opponents focused their arguments on the potential
for adverse personal and community impacts directly related to the prison.
• General-Opposition-to-Growth Frame. The
general-opposition-to-growth frame focused on debate regarding the
impact of any large development on the community but not focused
specifically on the prison's impact. Prison proponents, in the
context of this frame, were found to minimize the prison impact other
than economic benefits and to portray growth and development as
inevitable in the life of healthy communities. Opponents invoked
this frame to raise concerns regarding increased traffic and an
influx of new residents and visitors that would change the
personality of the community.
• Corrections-Reform Frame. The corrections-reform frame focused on
efforts to review current corrections policies and
practices. Proponents of the prison proposal typically minimized the
need for reform and emphasized the need for additional corrections
facilities to address prison overcrowding. Opponents of the prison
most often used this frame to question the political nature of the
selection process, the locations selected in relation to the
populations being served and the need for a broader review of
national and state corrections and sentencing policies.
• Total-Institution Frame. The prison as total institution frame
serves a social psychological function that allows citizens to feel
safer in the knowledge that criminals are securely locked
away. Proponents of the prison proposal stressed the isolated nature
of the prison facility as a response to opposition concerns regarding
safety and security. Opponents emphasized concerns about escapees as
well as programs that encouraged or allowed interaction between
prison inmates, staff and members of the local community including
inmate education and employment.
• Other. Paragraphs that employed an identifiable frame in
discussion of the prison proposal other than the five frames used for
this study were coded as "other." The only use of this category
throughout the study was in conjunction with one site's potential
environmental impact on a nearby wetlands area.
• Neutral. Units in which none of the identified frames was evident
were coded as "neutral" units.
• Unrelated. Paragraphs that were included in the article but did
not address the prison issue were coded as "unrelated."
While most paragraphs presented a single frame, coders were
instructed to identify all frames identified in each paragraph. Of
the 10,996 paragraphs coded in the study, only 183 were coded with
two frames in a single paragraph and five of those included a third
frame. None used more than three frames.
Sources. To address the question of sponsorship of competing
frames, hypothesis two required that attributed sources be
identified and coded in terms of their sponsoring organization or
affiliation. To obtain the necessary source information, coders
continued to review content in paragraph units but analyzed the
frequency of references to attributed sources. The name, title and/or
organizational affiliation of the attributed source was recorded. In
subsequent paragraphs, even if only cited by surname or pronoun, the
content was recorded as attributed to the source to which the pronoun
After recording the identifying information for the attributed
source, the coder then categorized that source as a member of one of
the following six source groups:
• Local government source. This category included county, regional
and community officials in elected or appointed positions. (For
coding purposes, county party chairs were included in this category.)
• State government source. Representatives of state government
including the Illinois Department of Corrections, Office of the
Governor, other state regulatory agencies and state legislators and
their staffs were included in this category.
• Federal government source. This category included representatives
of federal government including the Department of Justice, other
federal regulatory agencies and federal legislators and their staffs.
• Local business source. This category included community and
regional business owners and their representatives such as the local
Chamber of Commerce. This category also included economic
development groups and commissions sponsored by local businesses.
• Proponent organizational source. This source category was defined
as representatives of other existing regional or community
organizations that took a position in favor of the prison proposal or
that were specifically formed to promote the proposed prison
site. Local labor was included in this category when in support of
the prison proposal.
• Opponent organizational source. This category consisted of other
existing regional or community organizations that took a position in
opposition to the prison proposal or that were specifically formed to
oppose the proposed prison site. Local labor was included in this
category when taking a position in opposition to the prison. In
addition, outside groups that challenged the site-selection process
or called for broader discussion of prison reform were included in
this source category.
• Individual resident. Individual residents who were not identified
as members of one of the previously defined categories were coded in
this source category.
• Other. Sources that could not be placed in one of the categories
provided were coded as other and their identity and affiliation was
noted. A total of 122 paragraphs were coded as other sources. The
majority of these were columnists and other members of the mass media
industry writing in a specialized situation
Paragraphs in which no source was identified or attributed were
coded with an "N" to indicate that no source had been
identified. Paragraphs that made generic references to officials,
leaders or reports without more clarification were included in this category.
In the event that two or more sources were identified in a
single paragraph, coders were instructed to record all
attributions. Of the 10,996 paragraphs coded in the study, a total
of 58 incorporated a second source and five included a third
source. No single paragraph used more than three sources.
Direction. As suggested by Gamson and Modigliani (1989), media
frames serve to define the issue but within those boundaries there is
room for disagreement and debate. Each of the five prison frames
used in this study allowed for both proponent and opponent
positions. Thus, each unit was analyzed to determine the direction
of the paragraph's content relevant to the prison-siting
issue. Coders evaluated whether the newspaper coverage portrayed
prison facilities and the decision to seek selection as a prison site
in a favorable or unfavorable light. If the information presented in
the paragraph was worded in neutral terms, used a mix of both
positive and negative references, or if there was no clear position
presented in the paragraph, the unit was coded as neutral.
• Favorable. Favorable paragraph content portrayed the prison in
positive terms and as a desirable outcome, supported the siting of a
prison facility near the community or endorsed efforts to attain site
• Neutral. Paragraph content that was balanced or mixed, neither
favorable nor unfavorable, was coded as neutral. A significant
percentage of the content reported on the issue without imparting any
value or direction and was coded as neutral.
• Unfavorable. Unfavorable paragraph content portrayed the prison in
negative terms, as an undesirable outcome, opposed locating a prison
facility near the community or questioned efforts to attain selection
as a prison site.
Review of the 24 community newspapers included in the study
yielded a total of 897 articles that met the study's criteria for
inclusion in the content analysis. Individual paragraphs were used as
the unit of analysis with10,996 examined. Of that total, 1,761
paragraphs (16%) were coded as unrelated to the prison issue.
H1: News and editorial content in newspapers of communities
seeking prison site
selection will employ the economics-benefits frame more frequently than
Content was coded to identify the frames used in each
paragraph. First, paragraphs were reviewed for their relevance to
the prison site-selection issue. Paragraphs presenting content as
factual prison-related information without a specific frame were
coded as neutral. Nearly two-thirds (6,238 units) of the relevant
content was evaluated as neutral.
For the remaining 2,997 paragraphs, coders identified the
specific frame or frames invoked in the paragraph. A total of 183
paragraphs were found to incorporate two frames and five used
three. As a result of these multiple frames, the total framing
references totaled 3,185. Of these, the economic benefits frame
accounted for two-thirds of the framed content followed by the prison
social impact, the prison reform and the total institution
frames. Opposition to growth was least frequently invoked of the
framing categories. (See table 2.)
Distribution of References by Frame
relevant units a
Percent of framed references b
Prison social impact
Opposition to growth
a The term, relevant references, refers to the total number of
coded references (11,184) minus the paragraphs coded as unrelated
(1,761). Note that individual paragraphs may be coded as containing
more than one frame. Relevant references totaled 9,423.
b The term, framed references, refers to the total
number of coded references minus
those coded as unrelated (1,761) or neutral (6,238)
paragraphs. Framed references totaled
The data provided strong support for hypothesis one, which was
accepted. Of the 3,185 framed references identified in the study
(total references minus unrelated and neutral paragraphs), the
economic benefits frame was clearly dominant. This frame appeared
twice as frequently as all other frames combined (2,118 references for 66.5%).
Emphasis on economic benefits including growth and job creation
is consistent with the local growth coalition model (Molotch, 1976;
Logan & Molotch, 1987; Domhoff, 1998) in its presentation of
community issues as a question of economic "exchange values." For the
most part, frames considering the prison's potential impact on "use
personal safety, quality of life and aesthetic considerations were
conspicuously absent from overall coverage of the issue.
H2: News and editorial content in the local newspapers serving communities
seeking a prison site will employ a significantly greater number of
sources representing members of the local growth coalition model.
Paragraphs were coded to analyze source selection. Those
paragraphs that did not identify a specific source were coded as
non-attribution and represented just over half of the total content
(50.9%) analyzed in the study. For the remaining paragraphs, coders
identified all attributed sources even if this meant that multiple
source references were identified in a single unit of analysis. Of
the 5,364 paragraphs that did attribute content to a source, 59
paragraphs identified two sources and five cited three sources in a
single paragraph. No paragraphs were found to identify more than
State government sources (40.9%) and local government sources
(20.5%) were the two most frequently attributed sources of
information. Individual residents represented the third largest
source category, however the majority of content for this category
was concentrated in letters to editor. Identified sources who did
not fit in the defined categories were coded in the "other" category
and totaled 122 (2.2%) of the attributed references identified in the
study. (See table 3.)
Distribution of references by source
Percent of attributed referencesa
a The term, attributed references, refers to the total number
of coded references (11,060) minus the paragraphs in which no source
attribution was identified (5,632). Note that individual paragraphs
may have been coded as containing more than one frame. Attributed
references totaled 5,428.
The data provided support for this hypothesis which was
accepted. State and local government sources represented 40.9 and
20.4 percent, respectively, of the attributed sources for all
coverage. The dominance of government officials and business leaders
as news sources becomes more evident when only news and editorial
content is analyzed. Government sources combined were cited in 73.5
percent of coverage followed by business sources representing 11.8
percent of the sources used. Representatives of organizations taking
both sides of the prison issue accounted for only 7.1 percent
combined and individual residents were cited as a source in only 6.9
percent. These rankings are consistent across all three categories
(See table 4.).
Sources by Content Type for News and Editorial Content
Federal government sources
Proponent org'n. sources
Framing theories as well as models of journalism practice
frequently acknowledge a general bias on the part of reporters in
favor of legitimated sources. Sources typically aligned with the
local growth coalition are accorded legitimacy by virtue of their
institutional affiliation and journalists view these sources as being
more credible. Gans (1979), for example, found that those in
prominence accounted for about three-quarters of news content with
affiliations to business, government and other social institutions
predicting prominence. Based on such studies, one would expect
government and business sources to be dominant, especially in light
of the issue being covered. The importance of these findings then,
is not in their dominance, but the degree of degree dominance and the
almost complete lack of what Gans termed "unknowns" among the
attributed sources even in small communities and in the context of an
issue touching so close to the concerns of individual residents.
H3: News and editorial content in the local newspapers serving
seeking a prison site will employ a significantly greater number of
sources representing the views of prison proponents than of opponents.
Coders evaluated the context and language used to describe the
prison, whether prisons were presented in a positive or negative
light, and whether the content portrayed selection as a prison site
as a positive or negative outcome. Units that presented no direction
or that mixed positive and negative content were coded as
neutral. Of the relevant content, 41.9 percent was coded as
neutral. Fully half the content (50.1%) was coded as positive while
only eight percent portrayed the prison initiative in a negative
light. (See table 5.)
Distribution of Content by Direction
Simple review of the content by direction provides strong
support for the dominant coverage of proponent views over those in
opposition, however a more detailed analysis provides additional
insight. Table 6 presents a summary of frames and the proportion of
direction in the content of each. While both proponents and
opponents are likely to use each of the frames identified for this
study to address the prison issue, inspection of the definitions
suggests that proponents were much more likely to use the
economic-benefits frame emphasizing "exchange values." Other frames,
more closely aligned with representation of "use values" showed much
greater balance of direction. (See table 6.)
Comparison of Frames by Direction
Prison social impact
Opposition to growth
All three of the hypotheses tested were supported and offer
evidence of newspaper coverage and practices consistent with an
active role as predicted by the local growth coalition model. Prison
construction and operations were consistently covered in a positive
light as an economic issue with little recognition of concerns
regarding "use values."
This study sought to apply the local growth coalition model as
a theoretical context for the social control function of the local
press, dominance of economic frames endorsing community "exchange
values" and the lack of balance in source selection surrounding
Content and frame analysis showed a clear dominance of state
and local officials followed by business leaders as news sources who
framed this initiative in economic terms. This pattern of dominance
by political and business leaders is consistent with elitist theory
but further analysis identified labor leaders, educators and members
of the local media represented among proponent sources. This
alliance of institutions from across the community mirrors the
composition of the local growth coalition model as described by
Harding (1996) and others. While the focus of this study provided
quantitative evidence supporting the predicted composition and agenda
of the local growth coalition model, more qualitative contextual and
anecdotal evidence reported separately (Thurwanger & Jaehnig, 2004)
provided further evidence and a measure of concurrent validity,
including the active participation of newspaper publishers as key
participants in chambers of commerce, economic development
corporations and other groups organized to attract new businesses and
other forms of economic growth to the region.
Aligned with the views of the local growth coalition, all
newspapers in the sample were found to be much more likely to report
the prison issue in a positive context and to employ the economic
benefits frame twice as frequently as all other prison frames
combined. This pattern of coverage is consistent with previous
observations that community newspapers reflect the views of those in
power. However, this supremacy of economic interests over all other
local concerns also provides additional evidence of the growth
coalition's emphasis on "exchange values" to the detriment of
individual citizens' concern regarding the impact on community "use
values." Logan and Molotch (1987) observed an increasing shift from
consideration of individual concerns regarding community identity and
lifestyle toward a bias in favor of economic "exchange"
arguments. Though individual concerns regarding the impact of the
prison and other forms of growth were largely absent from coverage,
those concerns were often dismissed as emotional and lacking in
evidence when they were acknowledged. Editorials, reprinted
materials and news features all sought to refute these concerns and
typically closed with a reemphasis of the economic benefits to be realized.
The juncture of Tichenor, Donohue and Olien's model with the
local growth coalition model provides a fitting context for analysis
of the framing ecology surrounding the patterns of coverage observed
in this study. Quantitative data clearly showed the dominance of the
economic-benefits frame over all others and the overriding presence
of legitimated sources as sponsors of that frame. Emphasis on the
economic benefits of a corrections facility was expected, but the
virtual absence of competing frames and sources in the majority of
newspapers studied suggest an overwhelming victory in the war of
frames. From initial coverage, prisons were framed as an economic
issue and continued emphasis on economic considerations served to
reduce the salience of competing frames. Only by including letters
to the editor in the content analyzed does a whisper of individual
concerns regarding the presence of a prison in the community become
apparent. Using Breed's (1958) concept of a "reverse content
analysis," a critical element of this study is in the recognition of
the issues and voices absent from the coverage.
Limitations. Although this study was ambitious in its attempt
to conduct a census of coverage related to the prison site-selection
process in 24 Illinois communities covering nearly a quarter of a
century, the resulting sample was purposive. The external validity of
the study is weakened by the sample selection and one must be
cautious in generalizing the results of this study to other samples
A concern common to all studies using content analysis is the
potential for definitions and coding categories to reflect the bias
of the researcher. To address this, particular care was taken to
incorporate definitions from previous research where available. Where
areas of potential bias were identified, the more conservative
definition or coding procedure was applied. However, such efforts to
ensure reliability while strengthening internal validity introduce a
further threat to external validity. Riffe, Lacy and Fico (1998)
raised this potential weakness of content analysis in the context of
the naïve reader, noting that the meanings derived from content by
trained coders evaluating specific aspects of content may be far
different from the impression developed by the typical media consumer.
Future Research. The results of this study provide a measure
of support for the local growth coalition model as context for better
understanding the role of newspapers in the context of community
initiatives, however relatively little empirical research focused on
the role of the press as a coalition participant could be
found. Additional studies looking at a broader selection of
communities and issues is warranted. In addition, research into the
role of television and other forms of mass media is needed to develop
a more complete picture of the role of press participation in the
local growth coalition.
Implications. The findings of this study indicate a far more
active role for local newspapers in community conflict than that
suggested by Tichenor, Donohue and Olien in 1980. Their more recent
"guard dog" model suggested a somewhat more involved role for the
local press but still viewed media organizations as sentries watching
out for the interests of those in power (Donohue, Tichenor, & Olien,
1995). This model still assigned the local press a role that was
largely reactive to a separate power structure on which it relied for
information and revenue. This current study suggests an even more
active and partisan role for community newspapers as equal members of
a local growth coalition. Although this model places "rentiers" at
the nucleus of the coalition, it portrays each of the members within
the coalition as acting in their own self-interest. Harding (1996)
and Domhoff (1998) included the local press among "growth machine
activists" with newspapers endorsing economic growth as a means to
increase their circulation and expand their advertising
revenues. This study provides a measure of empirical support for the
local growth coalition model and for the active participation of
community newspapers in the coalition. Far from neutral, balanced or
objective, the majority of community newspapers examined in this
study contributed to presenting a case for seeking selection as a
prison site centered on the "exchange values" of community while
largely ignoring opposing voices and their objections.
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 Copies of the coding protocols and the coding sheets used in
the study are available from the author on request.