Finding the Smoking Gun:
Local Media and Community Ties
Local media and communities generally enjoy a symbiotic relationship,
yet interests do conflict. This paper presents the findings of a content
analysis of Pittsburgh television and newspaper stories to examine how city
news is reported. Research questions addressed the roles and relationships of
local media in the community and the framing of stories. The findings suggest
that news and beliefs about content may vary. This study provides an
opportunity to review predictions of media dependency theory.
Running head: SMOKING GUN
FINDING THE SMOKING GUN:
LOCAL MEDIA AND COMMUNITY TIES
Submitted to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Mass Media and Society Division
1996 Conference, Anaheim, California
University of Oregon
School of Journalism & Communication
Eugene, OR 97403-1275
Email: [log in to unmask]
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication
Syracuse, NY 13244
Finding the Smoking Gun:
Local Media and Community Ties
Local news media and the communities they serve have enjoyed, for the
most part, a symbiotic relationship. Each perceives itself as performing
important functions within a society. With the rise of a wide variety of forms
of media, particularly electronic, messages reach members of a community more
quickly and in greater abundance than ever before. Media dependency theory
(Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976) predicts the use of media as a source of
information in the absence of more personal sources of knowledge. In modern
industrialized societies the media bridge the interpretive gap in relaying
information about important issues and events. At times, however, the interests
of the media and those of the community appear to conflict, particularly as they
concern issues of responsibility, community, and localism. Members of a
community often look for someone or something to hold responsible for the
bearing of bad tidings about crime, taxes, and other important issues.
Naturally, the first impulse is to shoot the messenger.
This paper presents a theoretical framework within which to consider
the dissemination of local news. The following questions guided this research:
what is the role of local media in the community? Under what circumstances did
this relationship develop? In the process of framing the news, how do local
media cover neighborhood stories addressed to local concerns? The findings of a
content analysis are reported on Pittsburgh television and newspaper stories to
examine how city news is reported. This paper presents the historical basis
for press/community relations and suggests that post-industrialized communities
offer a special opportunity to review predictions of media dependency.
[Pittsburgh] is inhabited almost entirely by Scots and
Irish who live in paltry log houses, and are as dirty as in the
of Ireland, or even Scotland . . . There are in the town four
attorneys, two doctors, and not a priest of any persuasion, nor
h, nor chapel; so that they are likely to be damned, without
of clergy . . . The place, I believe, will never be very
-Arthur Lee, 1784 (Andrews, 1936).
Arthur Lee's gloomy prediction of the future of the city certainly
did not hold true as Pittsburgh now has a population of more than 350,000 and a
metropolitan area population of more than two million (Famighetti, 1994). If
thoughts such as these were printed in the local newspaper today they would be
considered, at the least, inflammatory. It is likely the early inhabitants of
this city did not appreciate Lee's comments any more than present-day residents
would. However, observations of everyday life and predictions about the future
still make up a significant portion of daily news. Some would argue the gloom
and doom philosophy is very much a part of the media today.
The impetus for this local news study came from a Pittsburgh-based
non-profit organization associated with city government. The organization
reported that community and business leaders had expressed concerns that, rather
than serving to unify the community, the media were perpetuating an anti-urban
bias. In its role as "the vital link between the city's neighborhoods and the
people investing in these neighborhoods" the organization performed a variety of
duties, including a significant amount of public relations work. The staff
members of this community-based organization were concerned about the quality of
life that was (or was not) being portrayed by the daily newspaper and local
(network) television stations. Over a period of many months, neighborhood
leaders had reported to the organization that the local media, instead of
fulfilling basic responsibilities were instead misrepresenting particular city
neighborhoods in terms of stories about gangs, taxes, and poor quality schools.
By their very nature, industrialized American cities reflect the long
and rich heritage of urbanization and modernization that is part of the fabric
of the development of the country. Cities are one of the keys to "understanding
processes of change within the entire nation" (Hays, 1989, 383). Cities along
the eastern U.S. seaboard can be viewed as microcosms of post-industrial
society. Pittsburgh certainly fits this profile. Known as the "iron city" and
"steel city," Pittsburgh was established in 1816. The city grew dramatically
due to immigration, both from eastern states and abroad. The first wave of
immigration to Pittsburgh occurred between 1830-1880 when the city changed from
a trading to a manufacturing center. Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, Swiss and
French citizens immigrated to Pittsburgh and helped the community develop from a
frontier outpost to a commercial center. A second wave occurred during the late
19th century (1880-1930) (Faires, 1989).
However, in recent years, the coal, steel, and related industries
have radically declined and Pittsburgh has suffered high unemployment. Viewed
in reality and by reputation as a coal and steel town, Pittsburgh has tried in
recent years to reinvent itself. Buildings have been renovated and incentives
offered to attract residents and businesses (Saltzman, 1990). Despite these
efforts, however, citizens and businesses have left the area. The Pittsburgh
metropolitan area suffered a population loss of nearly seven percent between
1980 and 1990. As Figure 1 shows, since the 1950s the population has greatly
diminished (Famighetti, 1994, 368),
1990 1980 1970 1960 1950 1900 1850
369,879 423,960 520,089 604,332 676,806 321,616 46,601
Although ranked number 40 of the 100 most populated cities,
Pittsburgh has suffered the largest percentage of populations loss placing it in
fourth position behind Gary, IN, Newark, NJ, and Detroit, MI (Famighetti, 1994,
Despite changes in population, one of the most enduring aspects of
Pittsburgh are the distinctive residential neighborhoods and communities, of
which there are more than ninety:
Social and religious institutions, cultural and class
patterns, a common history, and the region's rugged typography
helped to preserve distinctiveness. Few observers could overlook
"Germanness" of Troy Hill or Elliot, the Italian character of
mfield and parts of East Liberty, the dominance of Poles and
Eastern Europeans in Polish Hill and parts of the South Side or
persistent Jewish influence in Squirrel Hill (Weber, 1989, 362).
Given its rich history of ethnic and racial diversity, immigration,
industrialization, and urbanization (Zinn, 1995) Pittsburgh represents an
appropriate site for an investigation of media dependency as it relates to local
news coverage. The following sections will describe the theoretical, media, and
community contexts within which media use and community ties have developed.
Several nineteenth century theorists anticipated industrialization
and predicted that this process would have several effects on society, in
particular on concepts of community (Bell & Newby, 1972). De Tocqueville,
Comte, Spencer, T nnies, LePlay, Marx, and, Durkheim all investigated the impact
of industrialization on social and individual life. This section will briefly
review the work of several key theorists whose work formed the foundation for
media dependency theory. The work of sociologist Ferdinand T nnies is
particularly important, as he is considered by many to be the founding father of
the theory of community (Bell & Newby, 1972).
During the nineteenth century, the city and factory replaced the
agricultural community as the predominant place of work and life for Western
society. Institutions which had governed social relationships prior to this
time became severely strained. According to Comte (1830/1915), as specialized
functions grow, and ineffective social organizations fail to provide adequate
linkages between people, the individual becomes isolated from others. Spencer
(1898) suggested that specialization is a natural, evolutionary outgrowth of
industrial society and that "society undergoes continuous growth," and as it
grows, its parts become dissimilar.
In the late nineteenth century, T nnies (1887/1957) developed a
typology of human social ordering. Inspired by the transformation of his native
Germany, T nnies suggested that preindustrial society existed in a state of
Gemeinschaft, or "reciprocal binding sentiment," where decision-making was based
primarily on the influence of kinship and social groups. This was a time of
close interpersonal relationships based upon friendship and relations evident in
early agricultural communities. The family serves as an example of the ties and
feelings associated with Gemeinschaft, as do members of a village or small
community. There can also be mental Gemeinschaft when people share a deep
commitment to a set of beliefs or ideas. These beliefs and feelings bind people
together in a socially cohesive group.
T nnies suggested that, with the rise of industrialization, binding
sentiment would be replaced by reciprocal binding contract. The qualities of
this relationship would come to describe the industrial age: impersonality,
anonymity, social distance, distrust and isolation. He referred to this as
Gesellschaft. This formal construct suggests that people are obligated to one
another through the promise of fulfilling some type of formal contract. It is
evident that industrialized societies have moved toward a state of Gesellschaft
and away from Gemeinschaft, each implies a very different outlook on the way
decisions are made in society.
The transformation of American society from a state of Gemeinschaft
to Gesellschaft has led to changes in the sphere of communication interaction.
Whereas in the community-type setting, interaction is based on natural,
affective bonds, in the mass society it is based on structural bonds. Durkheim
(1893/1964) referred to the two types, respectively, as 'mechanical' and
'organic' solidarity. Mechanical solidarity unites a people who are essentially
alike (DeFleur & Ball-Rokeach, 1989). Organic solidarity is achieved through
mass communication that bridges the distance between isolated individual members
of the modern complex social system. Durkheim suggested society would thrive on
specialization, but concurred with his intellectual peers that there would be
social consequences. Suggesting that conditions of solidarity would vary,
Durkheim proposed that the division of labor that produces solidarity would
increase social individuality. As a result, the individual in such a mass
society becomes subjected to psychological isolation, reduced effective
interpersonal communication, an increase in confusion and ambivalence--a state
called anomie (Durkheim, 1893/1964). Individuals become confused about how to
interact with the world around them and close, intimate ties between people are
reduced. This lessens influence from interpersonal communications and leaves
the individual more vulnerable to influences from other sources, such as the
A theory that incorporates the mass society concept is media
dependency which is defined as a "relationship in which the satisfaction of
needs or the attainment of goals by one party is contingent upon the resources
of another party" (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976). Media dependency can be
defined as a 'relationship in which the capacity of individuals to attain their
goals is contingent upon the information resources of the media system"
(Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976). This theory suggests that as society becomes
more complex and there are fewer traditional interpersonal routes available to
individuals for solving problems, they tend to turn to the mass media for that
In urban-industrial societies, dissimilar populations are brought
together, despite differences in ethnicity, occupational specialization, and
economic class (DeFleur & Dennis, 1996). Due to this social differentiation,
there is a weakening of effective word-of-mouth channels based on deeply
established social ties through which people can obtain information they need in
daily life. Therefore, people in these societies become dependent on mass
communications for information needed to make decisions. In general, the mass
media serve as a social glue binding isolated individuals together in the modern
mass society; thus, replacing many of the traditional interpersonal means of
information exchange. Whereas yesterday's citizen would rely primarily on
interpersonal communication--perhaps with family, friends or neighbors over the
backyard fence--today's citizen is likely to rely on more formal information
channels, such as the news media.
As an increasingly fragmented population, Americans are looking more
to the media in search of solutions to problems and interpretations of social
and political issues which they cannot directly observe . Today's media system
is part of the social fabric of modern life. Key relationships are based on
dependency, which may be with the entire media system or with a particular
medium, such as television or newspaper. As the quality of the media improve
technologically, they assume more and more unique information functions
(Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976; 1989).
In modern society, individuals have come to expect a certain level of
responsibility on the part of the media. Given the convergence of media, the
term "press" in this study includes print and electronic forms. However, there
are important differences in they way Americans originally came to think about
newspapers and television that warrant discussion.
In 1948 Lasswell proposed that the media perform three functions in
American society: (1) surveillance of the environment, (2) correlation of the
parts of society responding to that environment, and (3) transmission of the
social heritage. Wright (1965), added a fourth function to this
array--entertainment. These functions are still viewed as vital to the
maintenance of the American system of government.
As early as 1929, Robert Park observed that communication was a
"primary mechanism through which individual's maintained the collective
enterprise called 'community'" and that local news is regarded as information
that is needed if the individual is to operate as an effective member of a local
community," (Stamm, 1985, 3). Park's work on the newspaper as an integrative
mechanism was very much a part of his work on the immigrant press (Park, 1922).
He came to see the newspaper as a vehicle through which many of the
characteristics of village life (the Gemeinschaft) could be recreated in the
Park (1940/1972) suggested that news is a form of knowledge with its
function being to "orient man and society in an actual world." Lippmann
(1922/1972) questioned how the world outside and the pictures in our heads vary
and subsequently asked, "What makes news?" An act--because that is what
distinguishes it from opinion. He asked if news is a reflection of social
conditions. He concluded the answer was no, that the biggest restriction faced
by newspapers in covering news is human interest. Lippmann also argued that the
news making process, by omitting so much background and contextual information,
made it impossible for the news to be "truth" (Graber, 1989).
Merton extended the notion of community ties and integration, noting
that the individual's community relationships are an antecedent for newspaper
readership. One view suggests that newspaper use leads to community ties and
another that community ties lead to newspaper use (Stamm, 1985, 5). Stamm
(1985) has noted that, in the past, media other than newspapers have been
ignored in examining the relationship with community ties. He cites a number of
studies that have begun to ask whether community ties contribute to television
Newspapers have also been cited as important tools in stimulating
civic pride and civic beautification projects, encouraging recycling, and zoning
projects (Radder, 1926; Wood, 1991). In general, there is an expectation of
boosterism, often on the part of public relations officials and information
officers who may consider the local television stations to be part of a
communication system designed to further their specific goals (Barkin, 1987).
While this notion of obligation would seem to be at odds with traditional goals
of "journalistic objectivity," a new type of "public" or "civic" journalism is
being embraced by a number of newspapers and is modeled along this same concept.
Civic journalism has been defined as as an effort on the part of journalists to
make public life work by becoming involved in the process of finding solutions
to community problems rather than only reporting them.
Although American newspapers are regarded, even in the age of
absentee ownership, as local in orientation, local television stations have not
been thought of in the same way (Barkin, 1987). However, in light of
technological innovations and improvements, the vast majority of Americans get
most of their news, especially local news, from television (Bartlett, 1993;
Rainie, 1992). Rainie (1992) noted that
. . . the overall effect of body-bag coverage on
American culture is odious--not because it misstates what's going
in urban neighborhoods but because the impressions it leaves are
processed in destructive ways by viewers (Rainie, 1992).
Many researchers would argue that viewers perceptions are created by
the mass media's "framing" of stories in a particular way--that is, they provide
contexts within which events are presented (Tuchman, 1978; Gitlin, 1980;
Rachlin, 1988). By choosing particular content, journalists in effect construct
reality, particularly if readers or viewers are unfamiliar with a story and have
no way to test its accuracy. The structure of television, which relies on
brief, information-heavy presentations that lack stopping points for reflection,
make it difficult for viewers to process anything more than a fraction of the
information (Graber, 1989).
Dennis and Merrill (1991) have argued that television news has
justifiably been called "chewing gum for the eyes" by emphasizing trivial events
that have a visual component regardless of the importance. Former anchorman
Walter Cronkite (1995) stated that, "the locals use any old barn burning or
jackknifed trailer truck, and pass that kind of thing off as news." He added
that local broadcasters are delinquent in covering community news that directly
affects how people live (Edmonds, 1995). This reflects a bias toward the
spectacle and misleads the public by following the visual clue to the exclusion
of deeper meaning:
Sirens bleat, bodies float, suspects cringe, victims
weep. Celebrities preen and promote. Anchors chat and emote.
local news time: normally 30 minutes of hell and blather, ads
promos, weather and sports, starting at 9, 10, or 11--local
sion's most profitable time of night and its most disheartening
the air (Frankel, 1995).
This if-it-bleeds-it-leads mentality has lead many to conclude that
the news media exaggerate the weird and unusual in order to make the stories
more newsworthy, hence attracting more viewers, thus, attracting more
advertising. In Pittsburgh, the community organization stated the following:
. . . we are concerned that the Pittsburgh
media--print, radio, and television--project an anti-urban bias
their news reporting. Neighborhood leaders tell us that the local
media often create an unnecessary level of panic and pessimism as
direct result of reporting practices that are frequently
and perhaps sensationalized.
Community and Media Context
Questions associated with localism and community are at the heart of
this conflict. Barkin (1987) investigated what it is about local television
news, for example, that makes it local. He proposed five definitions for the
community, garnered from sociological literature, that relate to contents of
news, the community as (1) a geographic unit, viewed by ratings,
(2) microcosm, the audience as a self sufficient social system, (3) a
sphere of practical knowledge--not only does television news serve as a
"community billboard" for news, weather and traffic information, the news also
helps define the community as a "collectivity of people," (4) an interdependent
social system--natural disasters underscore how a community is defined by its
inter- relatedness, and (5) the object of close personal attachments--stories
that "presume or encourage loyalty toward the community or its symbolic
representatives." For example, local sports teams invoke ties to the
"conventions and mores of a beloved place" (Bell & Newby, 1973, 24).
In order to understand the communication needs of the community, it
is important to grasp how the local media define community. Newby (1973)
offers the following:
Community will reinforce and encapsulate a moral code,
raising moral tensions and rendering heterodoxy a serious crime,
in a community everyone is known and can be placed in the social
structure. This results in a personalizing of issues, because
liar names and characters inevitably become associated with
that happens. (24).
An abundance of research has explored local television news. For
example, several studies have explored local television news values (Davie &
Lee, 1995) and the distinction between consonance and topic mix in news
(Stempel, 1985, 1988; Riffe, 1988; Fowler & Showalter, 1974). Scholars have
found that the networks present few divergent perspectives (Altheide, 1982) and
there is duplication (Lemert, 1974; Bagdikian, 1981). Others have found that
the networks lack consistency in news judgment (Sasser & Russell, 1972).
Contingent factors as explanations of duplication have also been cited (Lacy &
Litman, 1988; Lacy & Berstein, 1992; Atwater, 1984). Recently studies have
begun exploring sensationalism in reporting (Harmon, 1989; Hofsetter & Dozier,
1986; Dominick, Wurtzel, Lometti, 1975; Harless, 1974; Davie & Lee, 1995).
This body of literature suggests that the majority of studies have
focused on television news reporting. Graber (1987) suggests that researchers
treat television news as if "the pictures were nonexistent and only the words
mattered." She contends that "purely verbal analyses not only miss the
information contained in the pictures and non-verbal sounds, they even fail to
interpret the verbal content appropriately because that content is modified by
its combination with picture messages" (1989, 145). Graber (1988) contends that
research has shown that audiences report visual content more accurately than
verbal content, with retention rates for visual being much higher. Barkin
(1989) cautions that item counts, whether verbal or visual, can be misleading
for they render the text as no more than the sum of its parts. Gamson (1989)
agrees with Graber that we cannot understand the meaning of television news from
audio alone, however, he argues, that having coded television news for several
different issues, the visual material is often simply filler and adds nothing to
Scholarly studies of local media and communities are limited (Barkin
& Gurevitch,1987; Iyengar, 1991). Studies have looked at at the issue of
"sensitivity" in presentation of local news (Matera, 1990; Vancheri, 1995).
Watchdog organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Media Watch Group (1995),
have studied local news. This Denver-based non-profit group conducted two
studies to investigate local television news, the results of which are
particularly related to Pittsburgh. In the first study, family-sensitive and
non-family sensitive news broadcasts were taped in five different cities over
three days. The "mayhem" index (percentage of crime, disaster, war, gore) was
lowest in Pittsburgh for non-family sensitive news--31 percent versus 83 percent
for the same time period in Miami. The other three cities (Knoxville, TN,
Oklahoma, City, OK, and Minneapolis, MN) all scored 44 percent or higher.
However, in their second study that compared 58 cities, Pittsburgh did not fare
as well. One hundred stations were studied for one evening, including two in
Pittsburgh. One Pittsburgh station was labeled as presenting "a violent,
manipulative, and emotion-laden show" and was ranked 12th out of 100 in terms of
mayhem. The other station offered a "high degree of fluff" and was ranked 8th
out of 100 in this category.
Barkin (1987) suggested that comparative content analyses between
newspapers and television may "indicate ways the local mission (local news
coverage and civic responsibility) is divided up between the metropolitan press
and the community press." The units of analysis described in this study are
television newscasts and newspapers that meet this criteria. The concern with
reporting about particular neighborhoods resulted in the coding of stories
according to key words and neighborhoods. This study was guided, in part, by
research questions posed by Barkin (1987):
1. Do the local media portray the city as initiating or leading
change, or as responding to or reacting to social action?
2. Are central city, poorer areas, and middle-class or wealthier
neighborhoods depicted as separate constituencies or as reflections of one
3. Are different communities infused with their own particular
characteristics? Do the local media recognize these features?
A total of 66 primary neighborhoods were identified (the non-primary
neighborhoods were geographically distant from the city center). The names of
which were provided by the organization and city maps from local police
(Appendix 1). A television news story was coded if a specific neighborhood was
mentioned or was visually apparent, through a recognizable feature such as a
street sign in the report. Newspaper stories were coded within the sample dates
and were gathered through the Nexis/Lexis information service.
As this is a descriptive study, findings are reported in frequencies
and percents. The methods used for creating a sample and coding are detailed
below for television and newspaper. Intercoder reliability on the coding for
television and newspaper stories was 98.5 percent. Dictionaries were created
for coding neighborhoods and key words. Key words were generated from the
themes of promotional literature for the city; any words that arose during
coding were designated as key words and added to the dictionary. These words
were applied to television and newspaper stories. The reporting of four main
issues was coded under the following categories:
(1) Crime and violence.
Members of the organization suggested that certain neighborhoods were
considered by the media to be "war zones" and that the media were reporting
crime as particularly rampant in those areas.
(2) City schools.
Members felt that city schools were being portrayed as unsafe and not
of the same quality as suburban schools.
(3) Cost of living.
These were stories that suggested taxes and prices were excessive in
(4) Quality of life. Stories dealing with housing, recreation, and
business opportunities were coded.
The 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM news programs from the three major networks
(ABC, CBS, NBC) serving the community were tape recorded for the period June 4
- August 20, 1994 (12 weeks). The news was recorded that aired Monday through
Saturday, resulting in 216 half-hour newscasts. Within this period, three
constructed weeks were created in order to avoid any sequential biases in media
presentations between networks. This resulted in 54 broadcasts across three
networks. The average half-hour newscast contained 18 stories, resulting in 972
total stories for analysis. Alternative dates were identified if the date
selected was a duplicate, there was a tape error, or no news program ran that
evening. The news broadcasts to be coded (6:00 or 11:00 PM) were selected
randomly by a coin flip.
The news broadcasts were coded based on the following criteria:
length of story, theme addressed (crime, schools, taxes, quality of life), key
words, neighborhood in which the story took place, whether the context of the
presentation was positive, negative, neutral or unable to tell, and the method
of story presentation. Four methods of news presentation served as categories
(1) Package--anchor introduces story, throws to a reporter who,
through video, tells the story.
(2) Voice-over--anchor begins live in the studio, then footage comes
over while reading.
(3) Reader--anchor tells the story, no footage.
(4) Live--anchor throws to reporter who is live or might go to a
package then back to live reporter who throws back to anchor.
The Lexis/Nexis database was used to search for stories during the
same time period as the constructed three week period for the television news.
One daily newspaper serves the community (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). The key
words and neighborhoods were the same as used in the television portion and
served as search terms. The decision to use Lexis/Nexis, rather than a more
traditional method of looking at copies of the newspaper, was made in order to
assure a higher degree of accuracy (Tankard, 1994).
Each date was entered separately, along with the key words and
neighborhoods. Each entry often produced up to 100 stories, but many were
duplicates. If, for instance, crime, murder, and killing appeared in one story,
the story would appear three times during the search. Another issue involved
relating the stories to the four themes. If a story uncovered by Lexis/Nexis
did not relate to one of these themes it was not included. An example is an
obituary, which very often mentions a neighborhood but does not tie in with the
themes under study.
A total of 135 stories were selected that contained the key words and
themes. Key words were counted for frequency and coded for context (positive,
negative, neutral or unable to tell).
In most cases, the descriptive findings for television news and
newspaper stories are described in the same tables. For format-specific issues,
the findings are described separately.
A total of 78 news stories were coded that met the criteria of
neighborhood focus (8 percent). Nearly half of the stories (49 percent) were
reported by the NBC affiliate, thirty-three percent of stories were reported by
the ABC affiliate and the CBS station reported 18 percent of the stories that
identified a specific neighborhood.
Approximately two-thirds of the news broadcasts coded occurred during
the late (11 o'clock) news (60 percent). The remaining forty percent of news
programs were during the 6 PM newscast.
In terms of length, approximately one-third of the news stories were
:20 in length or less, followed by 26 percent that were :60 or longer. The
remaining stories (26 percent) were longer than 60 seconds.
Table 1 (following page) describes the neighborhoods mentioned in the
television and newspaper stories. Television news rarely mentioned
neighborhoods by name or by site. When neighborhoods were mentioned, Northside
was referenced 20 percent of the time, followed by Oakland (10 percent) and
Southside (8 percent).
In the newspaper stories, Northside was also mentioned most often (20
percent), followed by Homewood-Brushton and Oakland (6 percent each). The
combined frequencies and percents are also provided.
Television % Newspaper % Total Across % Across
Northside 16 21 20 22 36 20
Homewood-Brushton 5 6 6 7 11 6
Oakland 9 12 2 2 11 6
Hill District 5 6 5 5 10 6
South Side 7 10 2 2 9 5
East Liberty 4 5 3 3 7 4
Hazelwood 3 4 4 4 7 4
Shadyside 3 4 2 2 5 3
East End 0 0 5 5 5 3
Mt. Lebanon 0 0 5 5 5 3
West End 0 0 5 5 5 3
Lawrenceville 4 5 0 0 4 2
Upper St. Clair 0 0 4 4 4 2
Squirrel Hill 3 4 1 1 4 2
Wilkensburg 0 0 4 4 4 2
McKeesport 0 0 3 3 3 2
Mt. Washington 2 2 1 1 3 2
Garfield 1 1 2 2 3 2
East Allegheny 0 0 2 2 2 1
Television % Newspaper % Total Across % Across
Baldwin 0 0 2 2 2 1
Uptown 2 2 0 0 2 1
Monroeville 0 0 2 2 2 1
Aliquipa 0 0 2 2 2 1
Beechview 2 2 0 0 2 1
Sheraden 2 2 0 0 2 1
California-Kirkbride 2 2 0 0 2 1
Spring Garden 2 2 0 0 2 1
Bellevue 0 0 2 2 2 1
Downtown 0 0 0 2 2 1
Overbrook 1 1 0 0 1 0
Friendship 1 1 0 0 1 0
Highland Park 1 1 0 0 1 0
Point Breeze 1 1 0 0 1 0
Stanton Heights 1 1 0 0 1 0
Knoxville 1 1 0 0 1 0
Brighton Heights 1 1 0 0 1 0
Perry Hilltop 1 1 0 0 1 0
Westmoreland 0 0 1 1 1 0
Butler/Adams 0 0 1 1 1 0
North Hill/Cranberry 0 0 1 1 1 0
Carnegie 0 0 1 1 1 0
Woodland Hills 0 0 1 1 1 0
Farrell 0 0 1 1 1 0
East Hills 0 0 1 1 1 0
Greenburg 0 0 0 1 1 0
Manhall 0 0 0 1 1 0
Perryville 0 0 0 1 1 0
Clairton/Pleasant Hills 0 0 0 1 1 0
Morningside 0 0 0 1 1 0
Rankin 0 0 0 1 1 0
Total 81 100 91 100 179 100
Table 2 describes the themes of stories in television, newspaper and
the media combined. For both media, stories about crime and violence were
reported most frequently (43 percent television; 56 percent newspaper; 51
percent combined). This is followed by the "other" category for television (31
percent) which includes stories about local events, such as fashion and pet
shows and "quality of life" for newspapers (34 percent).
Theme of Stories
Television Percent Newspaper Percent Total Across
Violence 34 43 75 56 109 51
Life 20 26 46 34 66 31
Schools 0 0 7 5 7 3
Taxes 0 0 7 5 7 3
Other 24 31 0 0 24 12
Total 78 100 135 100 213 100
In more than half (51 percent) of the television stories, the context
(framing) was positive. Approximately one-quarter (26 percent) were neutral in
context, 5 percent were negative in tone and 7 percent were unidentifiable. For
newspaper, approximately two-thirds of the stories were neutral, 19 percent were
negative and 7 percent positive.
In terms of reporting methods, two-thirds (65 percent) of the
presentations were down with voice-overs. Twenty-two percent were packages
while a reader presented three percent of the stories. Only 2 stories were
Table 3 lists the key words used for searching both television news
and newspaper stories. The most commonly occurring key word in TV stories was
"killing" (16 percent) followed by "murder" (13 percent) and "fire" (9 percent).
Newspaper stories featured the words "Blacks/African Americans" in 15 percent of
the stories in which neighborhoods were mentioned. Thirteen percent of the
stories mentioned gangs and eleven percent discussed taxes.
Key Words Used in Stories
Television Newspaper Total
Word Frequency Percent Frequency Percent Across
Blacks/Afr.Am. 1 2 78 15 79 14
Gang 4 7 69 13 73 13
Taxes 1 2 59 11 60 11
Killing 9 16 40 7 49 9
Violence 4 7 44 8 48 9
Crime 2 4 47 9 49 9
Murder /Homicide 7 13 27 5 34 7
Drugs 3 5 32 6 35 7
Robbery 1 2 27 5 28 5
Northside 2 2 20 4 22 4
Shot/shooting 3 5 13 2 16 3
Housing project 1 1 11 2 12 2
Inner city 0 0 12 2 12 2
Fire 5 9 0 0 5 1
City Schools 0 0 7 1 7 1
West End 1 1 5 0 6 1
Danger 0 0 6 0 6 1
Rape 3 5 1 0 4 1
At-risk youth 1 2 0 0 1 0
Poverty 0 0 2 0 2 0
Urban Decay 0 0 2 0 2 0
Quality of Life 1 2 2 0 3 0 Kidnapped 1 2 0 0
1 0 Safety 1 2 0 0 1 0 Beaten 1 2 0 0 1
0 Juveniles 1 2 0 0 1 0 Guns 1 2 0 0 1
0 Stabbing 1 2 0 0 1 0 Car accident 1 2 0 0 1
War zone 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 56 100% 504 100 560
In examining the findings, local television news does tend to rely on
the visually exciting and emotionally stimulating story. The key words "fire"
"murder" and "killing" were most often mentioned. The research questions,
illustrated by the four themes, suggest the following:
1. Do the local media portray the city as initiating or leading
change, or as responding to or reacting to social action?
Crime and Violence. The themes of crime and violence appeared the
most frequently in both television news and newspaper stories. This is not
surprising given the visual nature of television and the graphic pictures
provided with such stories. This finding relates to Dennis' and Merrill's
(1991) charge that TV news emphasizes events that have a visual component
regardless of the importance. The newspaper stories often provided more details
than television, but the headlines for such stories were often more general when
referring to a neighborhood. The body of the story might mention a specific
street or neighborhood, but the headline might simply say "East End" or "North
Side". While this could be considered inaccurate, it could be viewed as a
business strategy to grab the interests of as many potential readers as
possible in order to compete for advertisers. This could also be interpreted as
newspaper performing the surveillance function. Conversely, others might
interpret this as participation in the sensationalism being purveyed by other
2. Are central city, poorer areas, and middle-class or wealthier
neighborhoods depicted as separate constituencies or as reflections of one
City schools--did not produce many stories or articles. This is
likely due, at least in part, to the timing of the study (summer). The few
stories available were a mixture of positive, negative, and neutral so it is
difficult to draw any conclusions without further research when schools are in
Cost of living produced stories mostly about taxes. Reporters
centered on school taxes, property and sales tax increases. Almost without
exception, the stories were straightforward, neutral and did little to present a
negative image of the city. Little was done to explain or interpret tax issues
for a better understanding. One of the charges against the media is lack of
focus or depth about so-called "boring" issues such as taxes.
3. Are different communities infused with their own particular
characteristics? Do the local media recognize these features?
Quality of life. While there were a number of stories that could be
interpreted as quite positive, this type of news does not necessarily produce a
positive image or feeling. Stories were typically about the community and
cultural affairs, particularly a baseball fair being held in Pittsburgh. This
finding is in keeping with Barkin's concepts of community.
The overall numbers indicate that the media are not denigrating or
misrepresenting neighborhoods. However, they are not necessarily recognizing
the distinctiveness of these places. Only 8 percent of the television stories
mentioned a specific neighborhood, despite a high awareness in the city of
Pittsburgh seems of the various geographic areas. One reason why the
perceptions of community leaders might vary with these results is that "bad" or
"negative" news has been found to create bad images for a city, but good or
neutral news does not produce a corresponding, positive effect (Galician &
Norris, 1987). Thus, the bad news, even if it is not directly associated with a
neighborhood, may be lowering viewer opinion about the city and promoting a
sense of helplessness (Galician & Norris, 1987). Any good or neutral news is
Chicago mayor Harold Washington said, that "most metropolitan
newspapers do not cater to the working public within their cities; they reach
out to the suburbs to embrace a more affluent readership" (Cohen & Solomon,
A negative area of reporting that stands out in this category of
crime and violence was the issue of "gangs" in Pittsburgh. This fell under the
quality of life category for coding purposes as the issue was presented as a
problem that was a part of the very fabric of life in the city. In this area,
the press coverage was quite negative. In addition, an important area was
African-Americans/Blacks were the only group of individuals noted by word.
As a preliminary study, content analysis serves this study well. It
is unobtrusive and allows for descriptive work. However, content analysis is
not generalizable and has limited inferential depth. The timing of this study
(summer) might have provided a different type of news story than would run
during sweeps periods. Future study could replicate this work during the fall
or winter. In addition, as a traditionally shift-work oriented community, the
late news (as opposed to the early news) might have a very different audience
and thereby affect neighborhood-specific reporting.
Beyond providing support for the predictions of media dependency
theory, this study offers an interdisciplinary connection between mass
communication scholars, sociologists, and historians. Future studies, utilizing
in-depth personal interviews with individuals living in the remaining
post-industrialized cities would be a provocative next step. Comparative work
in other cities of local media would provide an interesting study of local news.
The findings of this research also suggest important links for public relations
scholars interested in media directing public opinion. Certainly the study has
theoretical links to agenda-setting, knowledge-gap and accumulation theory.
The power of the media system lies in its control over scarce
resources. In this case the resource is information. As changes in society
have occurred along with industrialization, such as increases in social conflict
and social change, individuals rely on the mass media to reduce resultant
feelings of ambiguity (Ball-Rokeach, 1985). Individuals, groups, organizations,
social systems, and societies depend upon information to attain their goals and
to solve their problems. The goals-resources-dependency relationship determines
the degree to which the media will have power in a particular situation. Media
dependency theory stresses a tripartite model of media-audience-society.
A bidirectional theory, people depend on the media but the media also
depend on people (the audience) (DeFleur & Ball, Rokeach, 1989). At times,
however, the interests of the media organizations and those of the public
conflict, including community leaders. Responsibility is a key component in
the public's sense of media performing their function. Perhaps part of that
expectation is a recognition of localism and community, thus helping to unite
the community during a time of social and economic upheaval where interpersonal
ties might be absent. Some would argue that the selective, incomplete, and
fragmentary nature of the media allows for "creation" of reality. Others would
postulate that while the special interests of all segments of the community
might not be served, the media, for the most part, according to Bartlett (1993),
"reflect reality". A story may still be fair and accurate--as much as framing
allows--but perceived differently by community groups and special interests with
narrower points of view.
Again, Mayor Washington's view of eight years ago, was of newspapers.
However, his comment is relevant to all media today, "these papers are still
based in our cities, they own city property and to a great extent they control
our cities. But newspapers largely ignore the people right around them" (Cohen
& Solomon, 1995, 105). The general public depends on the media to communicate
events they cannot experience directly, even if some what is happening at these
times can be uncomfortable. The news media play a "vital role in communicating
those events the public cannot experience directly. Implied in this role is the
presumption that the news media act as a mirror of reality" (Peterson et.al.,
Altheide, D. (1982). Three-in-one news: Network coverage of Iran.
Journalism Quarterly 59, (Autumn), 482-486.
Andrews, J. C. (1936). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The first newspaper
west of the Alleghenies. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Atwater, T. (1986). Consonance in local television news. Journalism
Quarterly, 61, (Winter), 757-762.
Bagdikian, B. (1981). The information machines. New York: Harper &
Ball-Rokeach, S. J., & DeFleur, M. L. (1976). A dependency model of
mass media effects. Communication Research, 3, 3-21.
Ball-Rokeach, S. J. (1985). The origins of individual media-system
dependency. A sociological framework. Communication Research, 12, 485-510.
Baram, R. (1977). Newspapers: Their coverage and big business. In
B. Rubin (Ed.), Big business and the mass media (pp.135-168). Lexington, MA:
Barkin, S. M. (1987). Local television news. Critical Studies in Mass
Communication (March), 79-82.
Bartlett, D. (1993). Viewers like it: Bad news, assessment of local
television news. American Journalism Review 15, 20-21.
Bell, C., & Newby, H. (1972). Community studies: An introduction to
the sociology of the local community. New York: Praeger.
Boynton, S. P. (1989). A dozen tips for working with the media.
Public Management, 71, (March), 27-28.
Caspi, D. (1989). In search of a theory of television news and public
relations. American Behavioral Scientist, 33 (2) (November/December): 216-220.
City of Pittsburgh. (1992). Pittsburgh!
City of Pittsburgh. (1992). Pittsburgh facts: Statistical guide to
the Pittsburgh metropolitan region.
Cohen, A. A., & Bantz, C. R. (1989). Where did we come from and where
are we going? American Behavioral Scientist, 33 (2), (November/December),
Cohen, J., & Solomon, N. (1995). Through the media looking glass.
Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.
Comte, A. (1830-1842/1915). The positive philosophy. (Harriet
Martineau, Trans.) London: George Bell and Sons. (Originally published in
Davie, W. R., & Lee, J. S. (1995). Sex, violence, and
consonance/differentiation: An analysis of local TV news values. Journalism &
Mass Communication Quarterly, 72 (1), (Spring), 128-138.
DeFleur, M. L., & Ball-Rokeach, S. J. (1989). Theories of mass
communication. (5th ed.) NY: Longman.
DeFleur, M. L., & Dennis, E. E. (1996). Understanding mass
communication. (6th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Dennis, E. E., & Merrill, J. C. (1991). Media debates: Basic issues
in mass communication NY: Longman.
Dominick, J., Wurtzel, A., & Lometti, G. (1975). Television
journalism v. show business: A content analysis of eyewitness news. Journalism
Quarterly, 52 (Summer), 213-218.
Durkheim, E. (1893/1964). The division of labor in society. (George
Simpson, Trans.) NY: Free Press of Glencoe. Quoted in DeFleur & Ball-Rokeach
Theories of mass communication.
Famighetti, R. (1994). The world almanac and book of facts. Mahwah,
NJ: Funk & Wagnalls.
Fowler, J. S., & Showalter, S. W. (1974). Evening network news
selection: A confirmation of news judgment. Journalism Quarterly, 51, (Winter),
Frankel, M. (1995, April 2). Body bags at 11. New York Times
Galician, M. L., & Norris, V. D. (1987). The effects of 'good news'
and 'bad news' on newscast image and community image. Journalism Quarterly, 64,
Graber, D. (1986). Portraying presidential candidates on television:
An audiovisual analysis. Campaigns and Elections, 7, 14-21.
Graber, D. (1987). Television news without pictures? Critical
Studies in Mass Communication 4, (March), 69-84.
Graber, D. (1989). Content and meaning: What's it all about?
American Behavioral Scientist, 33 (November/December), 144-152.
Graber, D. (1990). Seeing is remembering: How visuals contribute to
learning from television news. Journal of Communication, 40 (3), (Summer),
Gurevitch, M. (1989). Comparative research on television news.
American Behavioral Scientist, 33 (2), (November/December), 221-229.
Harless, J. (1974). Mail call: A case study of a broadcast news
gatekeeper. Journalism Quarterly, 51, (Spring), 87-90.
Harmon, M. (1989). Market size and local television news judgment.
Journal of Media Economics, 2 (Spring), 15-29.
Hays, S. P. (Ed.). (1989). City at the point: Essays on the social
history of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Hayes, D. (1994). Personal Interview. S.I. Newhouse School of
Communication, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.
Hofsetter, C. R., & Dozier, D. M. (1986). Useful news, sensational
news: Quality, Sensationalism and local TV news. Journalism Quarterly, 63,
Kepplinger, H. M. (1989). Content analysis and reception analysis.
American Behavioral Scientist, 33 (2), (November/December), 175-182.
Lacy, S., & Bernstein, J. M. (1992). The impact of competition and
market size on he assembly of low cost television news. Mass Comm Review, 19,
Lemert, J. (1974). Content duplication by the networks in competing
evening newscasts. Journalism Quarterly, 31, (Summer), 230-244.
Lichty, L. W., & Bailey, G. A. (1978). Reading the wind: Reflections
on content analysis of broadcast news. In W. Adams & F. Schreibman (Eds.),
Television network news: Issues in content research (pp.111-138). Washington,
D.C.: George Washington University.
Lippmann, W. (1922/1972). The nature of news. In C. S. Steinberg
(Ed.), Mass media and communication (2nd ed.) (pp. 142-151). New York:
Hastings House, Publishers.
Massing, M. (1982, March/April). Bawlmer, you ain't s'posed to be
this good. Columbia Journalism Review, 47-49.
Matera, F. (1990). Dealing with 'tabloid' broadcasters. Public
Relations Journal (May), 32-33.
Minar, D. W., & Greer, S. (1969). The concept of community.
Park, R. E. (1922). The immigrant press and its control. New York:
Harper & Bros.
Park, R. E. (1940/1972). News as a form of knowledge: A chapter in
the sociology of knowledge. In C. S. Steinberg (Ed.) Mass media and
communication (2nd ed.) (pp. 127-141). New York: Hastings House, Publishers.
Paterno, S. (1992 15 August). Under fire: at hearings on L.A. riots,
critics blast the media on coverage, and lack of coverage, of minorities,
cities. Editor & Publisher, 18-19.
Peterson, R. A., Kozmetsky, G., & Cunningham, I. C.M. (1982).
Perceptions of media bias toward business. Journalism Quarterly, 59, 461-4.
Rachlin, A. (1988). News as hegemonic reality: American political
culture and the framing of news accounts. New York: Praeger.
Radder, N. J. (1926). Newspapers in community service. New York:
Rainie, H. (1992, 7 December). Holiday spirit and body-bag coverage.
U.S. News & World Report, 17.
Riffe, D., Ellis, B., Rogers, M.K., Van Ommeren, R.L., & Woodman, K.
A. (1986). Gatekeeping and the network news mix. Journalism Quarterly, 63,
Rocky Mountain Media Watch, 1995.
Rowland, W. D., Jr., & Watkins, B. (Eds.). (1984). Interpreting
television: Current research perspectives. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Saltzman, A. (1990, 9 April). The quest for community: Tomorrow's
suburbs may feel a lot like yesterday's small towns. U.S. News & World Report,
Spencer, H. (1898). The principles of sociology. NY: D. Appleton.
Quoted in DeFleur & Ball-Rokeach, Theories of Mass Communication.
Stamm, K. R. (1985). Newspaper use and community ties: toward a
dynamic theory. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Stemple, G. H., III (1985). Gatekeeping: The mix of topics and the
selection of stories. Journalism Quarterly, 62, (winter), 791-796.
Stemple, G. H., III (1988). Topic and story choice of five network
newscasts. Journalism Quarterly, 65, (Fall), 750-752.
Tankard, J. W., Hendrickson, L. J., & Lee, D. G. (1994, August).
Using Lexis/Nexis and other databases for content analysis: Opportunities and
risks. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association of Educators in
Journalism and Mass Communication, Atlanta, Georgia.
T nnies, F. (1887/1957). Community and society (Gemeinschaft und
Gesellschaft). (Trans. and Ed. Charles P. Loomis). East Lansing, MI: Michigan
State University Press. In DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach Theories of mass
Turow, J. (1989). Public relations and news work. American Behavioral
Scientist, 33 (2), (November/December), 206-212.
Vancheri, B. (1995, 3 August). Woman's Day survey tallies mayhem on
local newscasts. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, C7.
Wood, L. (1991). Work with the media to promote recycling programs.
Public Management, 73, (February), 19-21.
Zinn, H. (1995). A people's history of the United States. New York: