Presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Mid-Winter Conference: Reno, NV, February 23, 2007.
Twenty-four college-aged men have drowned in the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wisconsin, since 1974. Six of the deaths occurred between 1997 and 2004; the most recent death was in 2006. Some community members contend the deaths are tragic and unrelated. Others argue the collective set of circumstances points to a series of murders committed by a mysterious “River Killer” that local authorities are unable or unwilling to bring to justice. This research, conducted within the theoretical perspective of media framing, involves a content analysis of local news newspaper narratives referencing the 2004 drowning and/ or earlier deaths. The analysis of newspaper editorials, commentaries, news stories and letters to the editor published within a 90-day period after the 2004 drowning illustrates the establishment of two mediated frames, each interpreting the series of deaths in a vastly different way. The contradictory frames frustrate the efforts of community leaders who mishandled a key opportunity on live television to build a consensus of opinion that could have moved the community toward much-needed resolutions.
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