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Fear in the News: A Discourse of Control

David L. Altheide and R. Sam Michalowski
The Sociological Quarterly
Vol. 40, No. 3 (Summer, 1999), pp. 475-503
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4121338
Page Count: 29
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Fear in the News: A Discourse of Control
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Abstract

Fear pervades popular culture and the news media. Whether used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, an ongoing study finds that the word "fear" pervades news reports across all sections of newspapers, and is shown to move or "travel" from one topic to another. The use of fear and the thematic emphases spawned by entertainment formats are consistent with a "discourse of fear," or the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of the effective environment. A qualitative content analysis of a decade of news coverage in The Arizona Republic and several other major American news media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, and ABC News) reveals that the word "fear" appears more often than it did several years ago, particularly in headlines, where its use has more than doubled. Comparative materials obtained through the Lexis/Nexis information base also reveals that certain themes are associated with a shifting focus of fear over the years (e.g., violence, drugs, AIDS), with the most recent increases associated with reports about children. Analysis suggests that this use of fear is consistent with popular culture oriented to pursuing a "problem frame" and entertainment formats, which also have social implications for social policy and reliance on formal agents of social control.

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