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Image Themes and Frames in US Print News Stories about Climate Change

Pages 491-519 | Published online: 03 Dec 2014


Research on frames in climate change (CC) news coverage has advanced substantially over the past decade, but the emerging understanding of the framing role of visual imagery that often accompanies news texts remains fragmented. We report on a set of image frames identified through content analysis of 350 images associated with 200 news articles from 11 US newspaper and magazine sources from 1969 through late 2009. We reliably identified and quantified the occurrence of 118 image themes. We then hierarchically clustered the themes based on their co-occurrence in images to identify an integrated framework of 42 image frames. We highlight frames associated with particular types of images (e.g., photographs and maps) or geographic regions. From among the full set of frames, we identify 15 that commonly appear in US CC news imagery and discuss the ways in which image frames make salient (or render invisible) particular categories of people, geographic regions, aspects of science, and spheres of activity.


Special thanks to Fanny Agniel, who helped with acquiring and digitizing a portion of the image sample. We thank the Carsey-Wolf Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for support in the image coding phase of this project. This manuscript was much improved by comments from Stephanie Hampton and three anonymous reviewers. Several figures were created using the open-source data visualization software Circos (http://circos.ca).


Stacy Rebich-Hespanha acknowledges graduate fellowship support through the President's Dissertation Year Fellowship program of the UC Office of the President and postdoctoral funding from DataONE [NSF Grant No. OCI 0830944] during completion of this project.

Supplemental data

Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here. Additional underlying research materials can be accessed at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2014.983534 and http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1244882.


1. Sources were selected because they were associated with image metadata for at least some records, and were available on microfilm or as paper copy at the UC Santa Barbara library. Because this corpus was collected primarily for algorithmic text analysis (discussed elsewhere), only English-language articles were included.

2. Portraits created using a stipple method of drawing, such as that used to depict columnists in The Wall Street Journal.

3. Geographic region themes (the 15 remaining codes) were not included in the cluster analysis; rather, we separately examined co-occurrence of geographic themes with frames identified through cluster analysis.

4. See Supplemental Information for detail about dominant frame identification. Insufficient precision in operationalization of the “regular” people theme prevents a precise estimate of the prevalence of this theme.

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