The Portrayal of strikes. Framing and source in Swedish news on strikes.

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för journalistik, medier och kommunikation

Author: Johannes Malmgren; [2020-08-19]

Keywords: ;

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to describe how labor conflicts are covered in Swedish newsmedia. Strikes are events that receive a lot of news coverage, while also being the most drasticmeasure available to organized labor. Due to these circumstances, the news coverage ofstrikes is a promising focus when trying to understand labor journalism, and whatconsequences such journalism has for the labor movement. The journalistic treatment ofstrikes has not been studied to a great extent in the Swedish context. Therefore, this study hasthe ambition to fill this gap in research by exploring the journalistic treatment of strikes inSweden.The study is guided by a notion that the portrayal of conflicts may reflect wider powerrelationships in society as well as between the antagonists. Two main concepts are newsframe and source access. The former being interpreted as setting the terms of public debate,the latter as possibly contributing in shaping framing of strike coverage, or contributing inassigning credibility to some sources by giving them privileged access to act as news sources.The overall aim of investigating the portrayal of strikes in news media is specified to anumber of research questions. The first two questions address what frames are used in strikecoverage, and how the use of frames change with different strike contexts. Another set ofquestions address what sources that are used in the coverage. The last two questions thus onthe one hand address if source selection changes from conflict to conflict, and on the other ifcertain sources are associated with certain frames.The method used in this study is quantitative content analysis. This method is of particularusefulness when trying to answer questions that require analysis of quite a large amount ofnews content. The news coverage that was examined was limited to four newspapers,specifically Göteborgs-Posten, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, and Aftonbladet. The strikes thatwere investigated were the four most recent major strikes in the country. Two of these strikeswere carried out by pilots, one by dockworkers, and one was a wildcat strike by wastecollectors.Frames are in this study defined by their function, they set the terms of debate by diagnosing,evaluating, and making prescriptions when different events and issues are covered in news.As one of the questions this study sets out to answer is what frames characterize Swedishstrike coverage, these frames are derived from content. This is achieved by the use of aninductive method were articles are clustered together based on how homogenous they are with regards to some characteristics that function as elements constituting frames.Four frames were identified in the strike coverage. The most common frame was that of the aggressive union. Other frames where one were the conflict was framed as about the need for dialogue, and one where the emphasis was put on repression and transgression fromemployers. Lastly, in line with what could be expected from previous research on laborjournalism and strikes, a framing of strikes as a threat to the economy was identified in thecoverage. The most central frame varied from strike to strike, with the aggressive uniondominating the intensely covered strikes, the repressive employer frame characterizing onestrike where news coverage was limited, and the threatened economy dominating the fourthstrike.The strike antagonists dominated news coverage as sources, but employer representatives hadmore prevalence as sources in two strikes. In one of the pilots’ strikes, the employer waslargely absent as source, and in the waste collector strike, the lack of a directly involved union led to unaffiliated workers being used as sources. The sources were somewhat more common in articles framed more in line with their interests. However, the opposing forces in theconflicts were also commonly used in articles framed less favorably from the point of view ofthe sourced actor.The results give little support for theories of open dominance of some actors in coverage, andmixed support for theories on sources inconspicuously shaping coverage by appearing as main definers. A labor union managed to win in a conflict, where the union received negativecoverage, and so did an employer, indicating that the media portrayal may sometimes be oflimited importance in labor conflicts. The findings however indicate that the palette of framesused by journalists when covering strikes is limited, and that this may be to the detriment oforganized labor.

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