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Thematic vs Episodic storytelling

89% of news stories used an episodic (discrete) frame, while only 11% used a thematic frame (broader context of issues) (Kunkel, Smith, Suding, & Biely, 2002). This figure comes from a study in 2001 that examined how 12 major news publications across the United States reported on children and/or child-related issues. These stories were broken down into the following categories: child abuse and neglect, child care, child health insurance, teen childbearing, and youth crime and violence.

Key Takeaways from the Study

  • 9/10 stories covering children and/or child-related issues were related to youth crime/violence and child abuse/neglect
  • Within this category, stories of youth crime/violence and child abuse/neglect consistently failed to report relevant public policy and contextual information.
  • Less than 1/20 stories on children and/or child-related issues provided information to relate “breaking news” to broader social patterns.


Addressing the public perspective

Readers of traditionally framed news stories expressed greater pessimism than readers of the public health stories and believed more strongly that crime is random. Framing and perspective certainly matter. The framing of news stories has been shown to influence readers’ attributions of responsibility, general attitudes, and knowledge level pertaining to crime, disaster, and public policy issues.

Write thematic, and contextualized stories, as well as episodic: This encourages work on prevention, and helps people understand the problem in its context. Try to select stories that are statistically representative of their prevalence. Child sexual abuse is not isolated. In fact, many more cases of CSA go unreported than those we read about. Strictly episodic narratives do not inspire readers to consider the issue in a broader social context.


Learn more about our CSAM Media guidelines for reporting on child sexual abuse.

Thematic vs Episodic storytelling
22.03.2022
Photo by INHOPE
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Write thematic, and contextualized stories, as well as episodic: This encourages work on prevention, and helps people understand the problem in its context.

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