Preflighting Frames in the News: How SFA Informs Strategies

There are two very valuable deliverables that result from Strategic Frame Analysis™ research on any given issue.  One is the descriptive understanding of what patterns of thinking you are up against.  And the other is prescriptive, the redirective cues that are most likely to counter those patterns.

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine (Can Preschoolers Be Depressed? By Pamela Paul, Aug. 29, 2010) offers a case in point.

News is written along the grain of the dominant cultural models. Far from the much touted definition of news as “man bites dog,” most news follows the “dog bites man” approach that carefully screens out anomalies in favor of comforting confirmation of cultural scripts.   At FrameWorks, we like to say that “the news writes itself,” once you know the patterns in mind that have been shaped and honed by the culture.

Put another way, there is a double meaning in the New York Times slogan “all the news that’s fit to print.” Fit – as in aligned – is part of the reinforcing role of news in culture.

What that should mean is that, if Strategic Frame Analysis™ is worth its salt, it should help us be able to “preflight” the way a news article will approach a given topic – what it will focus on, what models it will evoke, what conceptual mistakes it will repeat.

Knowing this is tantamount to having the game plan against which you must develop strategy.  You may not yet know how to counter the dominant narratives – that comes in the prescriptive part of FrameWorks’ research – but you will be able to anticipate what will be done to you and to prepare a strategy for redirecting the narrative in better ways.

Try this experiment to see how you might use FrameWorks’ research on child mental health to anticipate what you might reasonably expect to be in the New York Times Magazine story.

  • First, watch our very short flash presentation that summarizes the gap between expert and lay thinking on child mental health.
  • Next, make a list of what you would expect to be part of the narrative of child mental health.
  • Finally, read the article and compare it to your expectations.

Now ask yourself this question: if you were to be interviewed for this article, what might you have done to redirect, counter, or deepen public understanding  because you know where the reporters are likely to go?

Of course, the complete answer to that strategic question comes when FrameWorks tests Values against specific policy solutions and Simplifying Models for their ability to sharpen understanding.  But we bet you will be surprised by how much your strategy can be informed just by knowing the narrative that is about to write itself.


Susan Nall Bales


One thought on “Preflighting Frames in the News: How SFA Informs Strategies

  1. I read the full 10 page report and reflected on the changes I have seen since I started working with young children and their families since the early 70s. In the 80s we were seeing children with anxiety and depression but it was really frowned upon to openly discuss this.
    I think we need to be careful not to put blame back on the parents . It is easy to do and often unintentional. If a parent has a history of depression we get into genetic links.(Bad genes so bad parent, you gave your child depression) We question how supportive they are in rearing their child.(Must not be there for their kid, too much pressure).As a parent you are doomed so a good tactic is for the family to deny the issue. The reality is that we have a child that feels SAD and what can we do to address this issue. The sooner the better!!
    If I was being interviewed on this subject I would strive to be clear about the traps you can quickly slip into. I would use caution with using labels(a parent can handle mood disorder , but depression may be the medical term), avoid using blame ,and focus on the plactisity of the brain and how quickly kids can respond (the language remediation example was great )and the role of working with the child and his family together .
    I found it interesting when the cup handle broke in the story how the Mom dealt with that. I do think we try to make things better so quickly that we don’t deal with some of the inner issues. Talking about things takes a lot of the power out of the fear. I will share this article as lots of good insights in it.


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