Media analysis of homeless encampment “sweeps”

Media analysis of homeless encampment “sweeps”: Local mainstream media emphasize fear-based discourses in news coverage of urban camping

Amoshaun Toft, Travis English, & Barb Thomas

The way that we talk about social issues matters. Particularly in a highly mediated society, the mainstream media play a significant role in influencing the ways that important social issues are thought about and talked about by the public at large. By watching and reading news stories about urban camping in Seattle, we begin to understand the issue as one thing and not the other; as something based in personal responsibility and fear, rather than collective responsibility and structural causes. One way to analyze how mainstream media journalists in Seattle have constructed a public understanding of the city’s ‘sweeps’ policy is to simply count the number of times certain types of words are used. This study shows how journalists have routinely favored the use of fear-based discourses over structural interpretations in their coverage of the City’s ‘sweeps’ policy over the past year, and ties changes in journalistic representations to public events enacted by citizen groups.

Toft, A., English, T., & Thomas, B. (2008). Local mainstream media emphasize fear-based discourses in news coverage of urban camping. Published in Bawarshi, A., Dillon, G. L., Kelly, M., Rai, C., Silberstein, S., Stygall, G., Toft, A., English, T., Thomas, B. Media analysis of homeless encampment “sweeps” Seattle, Washington: University of Washington.

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