The Media-Policy Relationship: Anti-Hunger Policy in America as an Example of Bridging Media and Policy Theory Through Better Definitions
De Munbrun, Ronald Noah
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A central purpose of journalism is to inform the public. Public policy is one area where such information is critical to citizens. With respect to hunger, many credit media reporting in the 1960s with creating the political will to implement anti-hunger policies such as the Food Stamp program. Fifty years later, the media’s role is different. In 2014, the number of Americans receiving aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose to almost 15% of the population. The bi-partisan Congressional response was to cut SNAP funding. The editorial boards of the New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post response to this apparent disconnect between need and funding was to support the cuts. Anti-hunger advocates fault the media’s framing of hunger for the cuts to SNAP and imply the public is not being properly informed. To investigate these claims required filling a major gap in both public policy and framing research: the lack of precise definitions of the unit of study. Though media framing theory is useful in explicating the “media-policy link,” neither the public policy nor the media literature consistently identify frames in terms meaningful to both disciplines. This dissertation argues that grouping existing definitions of key public policy concepts into the collectively exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories of public problem, public policy, public policy tools, public policy goals, and public policy ends resolves the inconsistency problem and fosters communication across disciplines. Using key points in the last 55 years of anti-hunger policy in America, it explores how utilizing these categories to group media “frames” allows for generalizable results for future studies as well as the ability to reorganize the results of data from previous studies in both disciplines. They also provide the means to operationalize what is meant by “informing” the public by explicating the media’s relationship to the interactions between these categories in the policy process. Using these categories, the study reveals that the media focus on anti-hunger policy tools while ignoring the problem of hunger they are intended to remedy.