How moviemakers frame the media: An analysis of the portrayal of journalism in Vietnam-era cinema

During my junior and senior years at Elon, I completed a 100-page thesis as part of the Honors Fellows program. My project, guided by framing theory, explores how journalism as a profession and the media were portrayed in film during a time in which journalism was arguably transforming its role in society – the Vietnam War. Rather than studying films focused primarily on journalism, I conducted a content analysis of the most popular films and coded the presence of the media in everyday life situations. The top five highest grossing films from 1968-1977 were included in the sample. These films were in production during the war, and their images reached up to 120 million Americans. The 50 films studied contained 460 representations of media that paint an overall picture of how media was portrayed to audiences in this era. Variables studied included what type of media was present (i.e. newspapers, television), whether it was in the foreground or background of the scene, whether its use moved the action forward, and the reporter’s demographic information and professional conduct.

Modern portrayals of journalism in film

At the same time I was completing my honors thesis, I tackled a similar project for my senior seminar class that explored the depiction of journalism in modern cinema, specifically in films in which journalism was central to the plot. A qualitative content analysis of 10 films examined overarching themes such as current media trends like the rise of online media, nostalgic portrayals of the past, and issues involving media ethics. The paper was selected for the first edition of the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications. As part of the class, I was also required to publish the paper in a Web format, which can be viewed here.