Fun with framing (and fracking)

Scott gave you two stories to read about the fracking boom. One, ” Y’all Smell That? That’s the Smell of Money,” was published in Texas Monthly in October 2014. The other, “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents,”   was published by Inside Climate News in February 2014.

Here’s what he asked you to do: Look at both these stories and respond in the comments below this post with your observations about the different frames these two stories adopt. Scott says: “The difference between the primary frames — fracking is good vs. fracking is bad — is pretty obvious. But there also nuances within those primary frames that can be analyzed and discussed. What sources do each of the authors use, and how are they treated? Who does the author believe are the stakeholders that have a place in the story, and how prominent are each of those stakeholders? How are the pros and the cons of fracking discussed, if at all? How do the photographs contribute to the frames? In the Texas Monthly example, you might even notice that advertising contributes to the frame.”

Go.

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10 Responses to Fun with framing (and fracking)

  1. “Y’all smell that? That’s the smell of money.” This article is framed in favor of the oil industry but not in a way that is overly positive. The writer inserts himself into the story, recalling the personal experiences of his family and friends, both positive and negative, within the oil industry. The stakeholders to whom this story appeals are the investors, owners and workers within the oil industry in Texas.
    The towns that were affected by the oil boom around Eagle Ford are also stakeholders, as their fate was decided by the money that flowed in, building up communities and providing jobs, at least that’s how this article is framed. “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents” is also framed around the communities near Eagle Ford, but it focuses on the health and opinions of people who aren’t directly involved in the oil business. The other article talks about the economic growth in communities in relation to the oil boom, but the Inside Climate News article looks at the wellbeing of individuals living within these communities.

  2. Olivia DeSmit says:

    The difference in sources for each of the articles contributes to the framing. In the Inside Climate News article, one of the main sources is a woman who has health problems made worse by the fracking. They also have a quote from an unnamed source that essentially says the fracking is going to cause residents of South Texas to die. It cites a lot of environmental articles and information on specific air emission levels and how harmful they can be. In contrast, the Texas Monthly article uses a family that “struck it rich” because of the fracking business as a source. It cites sources with figures about how much economic gain the fracking industry has caused in the United States. It has a lot of photos of people and success stories of those that benefited directly from the fracking industry.
    The photos featured in the Texas Monthly article are very appealing and show the fracking industry in a positive light with blue skies and sunsets and photos of successful businessmen and families. In contrast the photos in the Inside Climate News Article are mainly all graphs and charts showing negative environmental impacts. The one true photo is of the person with asthma holding her asthma mask.
    It seems like the main stakeholders in the Texas Monthly article would be businessmen and people living in the area. The advertisements show the energy industry in a positive light as the “backbone of our country” (Bank of Texas ad). In the Inside Climate News Article the main stakeholders would seem to be those concerned with the environment and regulations as well as those with health problems or friends/family members with health problems.
    The Inside Climate News Article mentions that for some, the fracking industry means enough money “to ensure their grandchildren’s future.” But then they discuss how the regulatory agencies do not really protect citizens but rather favor the industry. The Texas Monthly article did not seem to mention cons of the industry.
    The frames for each of these stories are complete opposites which just goes to show how a journalist’s writing, sources and photos can impact a story.

  3. MNagel says:

    In the “Y’all smell that? That’s the smell of money.” article, the sources used are people who have gotten rich off of the oil boom. By using these as his sources, Mealer is inviting only positive outlooks on the industry. Mealer also uses his own family as a source, which seems biased. In only including those who have made it big, the article is dismissing the rest of the population of those communities.
    Although some cons are vaguely mentioned, the article focuses clearly on how the boom is a blessing for the once “poor, hard-luck towns forever cursed by drought and flood.” He cites the increased job market and income made from the boom as reasons, as well as newcomers arriving, which would bring in more money and development.
    Something I found interesting was that the word “fracking” is hardly present in the article. The majority of the time “frack” is mentioned, it’s in relation to the frack ponds or water. Perhaps because fracking is so controversial, the author was trying to distance the article from the term.
    In regards to the photos, they were mainly scenic photos featuring beautiful skies or profiles of people in the story that were framed as impressive figures. One of the photos has a caption that reads: “Heavy truck traffic has increased dramatically in the Eagle Ford. In McMullen County traffic accidents have gone up 300 percent.”, but the picture itself only shows four trucks at a gas station. Unless you read the small caption, you wouldn’t know there was anything really negative about it.

    The article written by Song, Morris and Hasemyer uses a lot of scientific research to back up what they are describing. When mentioning the wells near Buehring’s house, the article goes on to explain the permissions of the wells and what they can emit into the air, and they also include diagrams of the emissions from the developments.
    Their sources include people, especially families, who have been negatively-impacted by the boom, along with public officials, professors and various reports. After reading the “Y’all smell that?” article, this one seems to contain the input of every Texan other than those getting rich. Or, when it did include those who have profited from the boom, they came across as if they were ignoring the issues.
    There was only one photo in the whole article, which I thought was an obvious example of framing because it showed a medicine mask at the beginning of an article about toxic emissions. That there weren’t any other photos in the article made it seem like it was solely focused on the facts and numbers of the situation. I respect that, but I wish they had included photos of the homes where families were said to be suffering.
    The article written by Song, Morris and Hasemyer uses a lot of scientific research to back up what they are describing. When mentioning the wells near Buehring’s house, the article goes on to explain the permissions of the wells and what they can emit into the air, and they also include diagrams of the emissions from the developments.
    Their sources include people, especially families, who have been negatively-impacted by the boom, along with public officials, professors and various reports. After reading the “Y’all smell that?” article, this one seems to contain the input of every Texan other than those getting rich. Or, when it did include those who have profited from the boom, they came across as if they were ignoring the issues.
    There was only one photo in the whole article, which I thought was an obvious example of framing because it showed a medicine mask at the beginning of an article about toxic emissions. That there weren’t any other photos in the article made it seem like it was solely focused on the facts and numbers of the situation. I respect that, but I wish they had included photos of the homes where families were said to be suffering.

  4. The “Y’all smell that?” article really irritated me. I’ll admit, it’s written brilliantly, but the way it spun the cons of fracking into positives was absurd. (I feel like I should add in that I’m strongly against fracking, so that definitely contributed to the way I read this piece). The quote that particularly bothered me is the one on page 9 that says, “Aha! I see you survived the Tunnel of Death,” which is said to a child in reference to a fracking site. It seemed like this article included some of the cons and dangerous parts of fracking, but used exclamation points and excited, happy characters to present the ideas to cover up what they were really saying. The stories and writing style definitely drew me in – it’s very well put together and is easy to read and follow – but it ignores the problems with what is going on, which the second article points out as a problem. There is very little acknowledgment of how something causes harm when it pays the bills. It’s interesting to read these back to back, especially with the first one following a young boy’s narrative and his excitement about getting rich, but then seeing the elderly couple that can hardly breath in the second story. Together, they paint an interesting picture. You could almost imagine it like you’re follow one person throughout their life who looks past dangers for money when they’re young and then dies early from their choices. But I suppose if you want to live life in style and buy some of the fancy rings and vacation homes like they advertise in the first article, then what’s a few years of suffocating and blacking out from migraines?

    I was more interested to read the second article since it does favor my personal opinions, but I mostly wanted to see how the author would try to convince the audience that fracking should stop despite the monetary benefits. It’s hard to make changes when something harmful is so great for the economy. It can also be tough to tell stories with a lot of data because even if it shows accurate, hard evidence, a lot of people will still skim over it. Especially if it’s showing something they don’t want to believe, which I think is often the case with fracking. I liked the way the writer began with a simple narrative focusing on one character. The article does a really nice job of setting up the scene and making it feel relatable, and I think it keeps up with the scene consistently throughout the piece. It definitely helps you empathize with the character and worry about her future. It gets a little tough to read once it starts getting into the data just because there is so much of it, but it was nice to have the graphics to break it up and help make it easier to digest. I’m also glad you could click on them to make them larger because some had really tiny writing on them. I think the only part I would really want to change would be to add in more photos. Many issues with fracking can be seen very clearly, and I think it would have been nice to have more pictures to show some of problems. That was something the first article did well with, and it is also a good way to break up some text without using a graphic that just has more words on it.

    Both of these articles definitely aimed to appeal to people’s emotions, whether it was a success story about someone that used to be struggling or following a sweet older couple dealing with health problems caused by the environment. I think the second story takes some more time and dedication to read, but anyone who is a stakeholder and dealing with health conditions due to fracking would definitely appreciate this article. I think the hard part of this issue is that people might like reading the success story better just to convince themselves there isn’t a problem to worry about, despite the data that shows otherwise. But hopefully more people will start taking the data seriously before it’s too late.

  5. The framing of the two articles was very different in the perspectives that they took. Do You Smell That? took the economic perspective of the people who were involved from a beneficial standpoint. While it touched on some of the health effects, and wasn’t uniformly positive, it was more than anything about the money and the culture and the lifestyle that surrounds the oil industry.

    Fracking Boom on the other hand was a more scientific, negatively framed, article about health effects and legal violations. it was very well researched but sort of inhuman, no matter how many people’s testimony it brought into the article. It never really gave a sense of them as people, what they looked and acted like, and so it was harder to empathize with them even as you heard their testimony of how they were being killed in their home and no one would listen.

  6. The “Y’all smell that” story was wonderfully written. I was born in Odessa, Texas and grew up there for 6 years and still have family there. I’m familiar with the oil boom families and those flocking to make money of every boom. I’ve seen Odessa, experience a boom and seen people profit off of it. This article did an amazing job of portraying that life and portraying that event. It’s framed in a positive and glorifying way. Most of the sources and interviews come from people who benefit from fracking and oil. You don’t really see a negative side until pages into the article. Even when talking about the guys working on the rig, he portrayed the loneliness and prostitution as sort of a “boys will be boys” situation. He focused more on how much money they made than on how likely they were to end up mangled. The negatives he mentioned late in the article related to house pricing. Something that is a problem but seemingly low on the list behind ecological nightmares and fast and loose regulations and big accidents. The frame is heavily set on the financial side and the benefits that come from fracking financially. The argument and life the article presents is well done and enticing.
    From the title and first sentence with a mention of the inhaler of the “Toxic Air” article the farm is fairly apparent. The article paints the people who care about money and its sources who comment on that as greedy and callous. They come off as ridiculous and greedy. On the other side the article explains the problem with regulations and the chemicals and problems that come from that. It does a good job of painting a human problem even with all the science involved even with its subheadings specifically, “Help us before we die.” The article makes you outraged really, that the complaints and health of many people is being pushed to the side in favor of making money. The numbers and data is hard to get through. Anytime you have to involve so much data in a story it is always hard to make it a compelling read and this story managed to do that. Compared to “Y’all smell that” creating an infoThe article does a great job of framing the problem as not only serious, but undervalued. You get a sense that people are not taking the problem serious enough when reading that article and it caused a little outrage. After reading this article and looking back on “Y’all smell that,” the latter seems almost an explanation of how someone could ignore health issues. “Y’all smell that” shows the mentality that leads to problem outlined in “Toxic Air,” but when I read “Y’all smell that” the frame was so well created I did not think about that at all.

  7. In the article titled “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents,” the author clearly creates a divide between families, like those interviewed for the story, and Texas agencies and officials overseeing the industry. The author is truly framing families like the Buehrings as the victims in this story while Texas agencies and officials are the money-hungry villains who don’t necessarily care about how fracking will impact the people living in those areas. Ultimately, this article discusses the negative impacts of fracking, including an informative graphic that shows how fracking works and the effects. Professional sources in this story are clearly against fracking, but the author doesn’t really include much from sources who believe that fracking will help Texas.

    In the other article, there is a lack of empathy for those who suffered because of the fracking boom, as this article is told from the perspective of a family who had benefited from it; those who had struggled before the boom and now thrived because of it. I would argue that this piece mutes all of the issues that fracking causes, which doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run. The stakeholders in that story would be those who are in the business, those who work in the business, and maybe even government officials who ran on the promise to bring back jobs and money to Texas.

  8. Scott Swafford says:

    Very interesting fodder for conversation tomorrow.

  9. The authors of both articles invoked history and data, respectively, as a means of contextualizing modern fracking, but they go about it in very different ways.

    In his Texas Monthly article, Ya’ll Smell That? That’s the Smell of Money,” Mealer attempted to enchant, or perhaps distract, the reader by casting the oil boom as an essential player in Texas’ origin myth: “Texas is founded on booms — they built our cities and universities and museums…They gave us our swagger, known around the world…They’re our proof that the American dream is alive and well.” This powerful language is wasted on what is, overall, a weak argument. This passage in particular smacks of willful ignorance. Mealer calls upon the past not to educate, but to deceive. Instead of recounting past mistakes in hopes of avoiding them in the future, Mealer chooses to appeal to Texans’ cultural identity. While he succeeds, his ethos-driven argument does little to help his readers understand what it a formidable and complex issue.

    Song, Morris and Hasemyer lay out a more empirical argument in their piece for Inside Climate News, “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents.” Song, Morris and Hasemyer forgo flowery language in favor of a more sobering take on modern fracking: “The ranch-style house she shares with her 66-year-old husband, Shelby, is at the epicenter of one of the nation’s biggest and least-publicized oil and gas booms. With more than 50 wells drilled within 2.5 miles of their home, the days when the Buehrings could sit on the deck that Shelby built and lull away an afternoon are long gone. The fumes won’t let them.” The authors of this article are also a little guilty of heartstring tugging – the plight of Lynn and Shelby Buehring isn’t supposed to make us feel good about fracking – but, overall, I felt their article was more relevant to their audience than Mealer’s was to his. Song, Morris and Hasemyer’s invocation of history was an interesting juxtaposition to Mealer’s, too. While Mealer painted Texas’ glorious, oil-rich past as a fracking heyday, Song, Morris and Hasemyer revered the state’s recent history as a bygone era in which people could, quite literally, breathe easier. Both descriptions are positive, but they differ in the way they ask us to feel about the present. Song, Morris and Hasemyer would like us to feel remorseful, to doubt the decisions that have dragged us into these poisonous end times. For Mealer, well, “laissez les bon temps rouler,” as his neighbors to the east might say.

    While both articles employ data, I feel Song, Morris and Hasemyer do a better job of using numbers to highlight issues that impact everyday Texans. When Mealer employs data, it’s prospective, i.e. how much money could oil booms make investors, how many jobs will be created etc. While Song, Morris and Hasemyer’s data about dangerous toxins are indeed part of their anti-fracking frame as much as Mealer’s data is part of his pro-fracking frame, I believe the former’s end product is more useful to readers as a whole.

    On the off chance it isn’t already clear, I fall in the Song, Morris, Hasemyer camp when it comes to fracking. But regardless of my opinion, this was an important analytical exercise. As citizens and journalists especially, we need to be able to understand the intricacies of framing techniques and the effects they can have on audiences. Mealer is writing for a community that is invested in oil profitability, but his article has no doubt reached beyond those bounds. When an everyday Texan — one who may not be privy to information regarding the dangers of fracking, let’s say — encounters Mealer’s expertly-framed piece, it may sway their politics in a direction that could ultimately be harmful for their health. However, if this everyday Texan is cognizant of the frame Mealer has used for this story, they could be more likely to seek another article that features a different point of view. I believe people have an intrinsic desire to be well-informed, to know “what’s up”. Lessons on framing simply enhance their capability to identify spin when they see it, and make sure even the most deftly composed frame doesn’t cloud their understanding of the truth.

  10. madisonskahill says:

    The “do y’all smell that” article clearly fit into a more positive frame regarding fracking. Immediately noticeable is the fact that this piece only considers the perspective of stakeholders that were positively affected by the oil boom. It was honestly interesting to hear about how much the town grew from it, and all of the economic boom that was generated in this area, beyond strictly the oil production. All of the details about families that cashed in and their luxurious trips and lucrative material possessions added almost a foreshadowing effect about the gambling factor behind the industry. It read in a tone that almost condescended, and predicted the risk behind the money. This didn’t distract from the blatant framing, however. I don’t know if I would have even picked up on the subtle framing behind the choice in advertising if Scott hadn’t said something. But once I was looking for it, I noticed that more than half of the ads were oil-related, and involved investments opportunities, engineering specifics, and even connections to universities like Texas Tech. The article doesn’t include much perspective of stakeholders that weren’t drilling or cashing in themselves. These are the people that most likely would hold a different opinion on fracking.

    In direct contrast, the Inside Climate News story opens up immediately with stakeholder that is negatively affected by the oil boom. They include a map that shows the holistic spread of the Eagle Ford Shale and Barnett Shale, which is something that I don’t remember getting a visual of from the “do y’all smell that” article. I feel like sometimes when a map like this is used, it’s used in a sense to show “an outbreak” of a surge of something. While this is exactly what they were probably trying to achieve, it definitely takes on a different connotation that the handful of images of isolated oil rigs backed by pleasant sunsets in the other article. This article is definitely more numbers heavy, and not in terms of money. The data included highlights a clear scientific frame, backed by specific data. The article relied on documents and data, as well as testimonies of people who are tangibly affected in a negative way.

    In the end, both articles approach deeply rooted perspectives on the issue. Entire, equal coverage of the fracking boom would probably require an entire book.

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