1.7 Study Limitations
A few issues stand in the way of comprehensive completion of the study. As such, the limitations that arise serve to restrict the scope of coverage of the research. To the extreme Swaine et al. (2015) observe that statistics accounting for the number of deaths of African American males remains scanty since neither the government nor humanitarian institutions such as the CDC have dedicated resources to tallying the instances of killings of African Americans in the hands of police. In that regard, the study is limited in scope since data sources as pertains to the cases of killings of African Americans by the police are difficult to come across. Nonetheless, the study focusses on instances that have garnered public attention due to the extreme nature of the confrontation between the police and the African American victims who were shot. In that respect, notable cases such the recent Dallas shooting of five police officers by a Black assailant (Levin, Jamieson, Glenza, Weaver, & Phipps, 2016), Philando Castile’s shooting (Flores & Shoichet, 2016) and Michael Brown’s shooting among others are discussed as isolated case studies (BBC, 2014). To that extent, the study shall, therefore, be limited to the evaluation of a few selected case studies of instances of police brutality in an attempt to better understand the implications of media’s portrayal of African Americans.
The second limitation of the research regards the scope of investigation. Due to the vastness of new media forms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tinder, Snapchat and the likes, it proves too broad to focus on each of the new media forms as sources of data. As such, the research shall primarily focus on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as the three most used new media forms to spread information about police brutality (Arafa & Armstrong, 2015). To that extent, the research’s aim is to evaluate how new media forms selected prove effective or not in projection of perceptions of African American males. Equally, numerous forms of traditional media exist that include film, television, newspapers, and magazines. As far as the scope of the study is concerned, the research shall primarily use television and newspaper as the core sources of information regarding traditional media’s coverage of news events (SocialCapital, 2011). Based on the selections of the modern and traditional media sources of information, the research shall limit the case studies to the content found in the same sources and; hence, generalize the information as representative of both traditional and modern forms of media’s creation of perceptions about African Americans.
1.8 Theoretical Underpinnings
Theory is important in framing the context of the study in which case, the researcher works from the known to the unknown by attempting to examine relationships between the variables. On that premise, the current study also draws from some form of theoretical thinking. However, the study does not entirely fit in one particular context or category of theory. For that reason, several theoretical constructs are discussed which then inform the development of progressive thought towards creation of better understanding of the concepts under examination. Among the theories discussed to have an impactful contribution to the research include the Agenda Setting Theory and Framing Theory that are primarily concerned with the conduct of the media in shaping media messages that are fed to the public. The Grounded Theory, for instance, discusses the liberated approach that the study takes in its evaluation of the research topic. As such, the grounded theory explains the setup of the study as not relying on theoretical concepts of one theory but many due to the collective nature of the research goals in evaluating phenomenon under study. What is more, the grounded theory explains why the research cannot fit in one particular theoretical context based on the fact that it comprises a collection of data from multiple sources including previously completed research. The modalities of the study as provided for in the context of the research are such that only examination of patterns in the data collected is essential for the interpretation of the study aims and answering research questions.
Another theory closely associated with the Framing and Agenda Setting Models is the Hypodermic Needle Theory which also advances that media messages influence the publics. In that esteem, the Hypodermic Needle Theory is discussed for its allusion to the injection of messages into the minds of audiences. Other theories that have essentially formed part and parcel of the conceptual framing of the research topic include The Agenda Setting Theory and the Framing Theory both advance that the media presents an influence on the masses through the shaping of media messages. In that esteem, the discussions around Agenda Setting and Framing models are associated with the influence that the traditional and modern forms of media bring to the table with respect to shaping the ideologies and the beliefs of the populous particularly regarding African-American males. Equally, the Critical Race Theory also forms part of the theoretical underpinnings discussed in the paper, the model advances that White supremacy is to blame for the problems suffering, and challenges faced by Black Americans. The social Conflict Theory in many respects is associated with the development of knowledge on how class and status factors in the society play a role in determining relations between individuals of varying status. The Social Conflict Theory in many respects proves central to the understanding of the tensions that exists in racial relations between African-American men and White police officers. Each of the theoretical models presented pose significant points of influence on the details of the research topic as pertains to the objectives of the research report. As such, the theories inform conceptual thinking about various aspects that are concerned with the research question. Each of these theories is discussed in greater detail as under;
1.8.1 Agenda Setting Theory
The Agenda Setting Theory of the media was established in 1968 by Max McCombs and Donald Shaw when they sought out to find the most highly regarded topics of election importance in the public and media during the presidential elections that same year (McCombs & Shaw, The agenda-setting function of mass media, 1972). The study results indicated a strong correlation between what the public thought was of importance during the elections and what was presented in the press as of importance by media outlets. In other words, what the media focussed on as issues of importance during the election period was highly perceived to be of importance by members of the public (McCombs M. , A look at agenda-setting: Past, present and future, 2005). Hence, the Agenda Setting Theory was born, in which case, the analogy that the media decides on what is important to the public by repeatedly emphasising and putting attention on specific issues that are of public interest. As such, the public are duped into believing that the issues that are prevalent in the press are of more importance to the public and to the nation at large (Walgrave & Van Aelst, 2006). In that regard, the Agenda Setting Theory notes that the more an issue or topic is featured in the media, the more the public find it relevant and of importance to their lives and to the state of being whether touching on social, political, or economic agenda.
The Agenda Setting Theory proves relevant to the development of the research report given that the media is a tool that is widely used by consumers of information in modern times. Moreover, the advent of the revolution of the internet and especially social media is a phenomenon that is to be revered from sparking revolution calls in the Arab nations of North Africa (Brown, Guskin, & Mitchell, 2012), to developing a movement that is historically revolutionary such as the infamous #Black Lives Matter campaign (Stephen, 2015). As such, the media proves essentially a critical tool in the development of agenda as far as consumption of media content by members of the public is concerned. Notably, the audiences that consume content that is shaped by the media in various forms whether traditional or modern have come to take a position that is similar or that aligns with that projected in the media. In other words, the content that is carried in the media makes individuals feel that such content is not only of importance but also that it is what matters to them and to the general public at that particular point in time. In that esteem, the Agenda Setting Theory is indispensable in the preparation of the research report since it touches on the core issues pertaining to the role of the media in informing the audience about issues. Moreover, the Agenda Setting Theory proves relevant in this research based on the premise that the collection of data is dependent on building of information sourced from media sources that include both traditional and modern forms.
For the Agenda Setting Theory to take hold, two conditions need to have been met. The first is that the Agenda Setting process will involve the active role of the media in shaping the mind set or thinking of the public based on the manner in which information is presented to the public. The second attribute incorporates the participation of the public where various actions such as from policy makers, activists, civil rights groups, and politicians among others seem to follow the presentation of agenda by the media. (McCombs & Shaw, The agenda-setting function of mass media, 1972) As such, the media becomes the catalyst for brewing activity and hammering sensitivity into the minds and hearts of the people. In essence, making the people do what the media prescribes as to be of relevance (McCombs M. , A look at agenda-setting: Past, present and future, 2005).
1.8.2 Framing Theory
The framing theory is essentially an extension of the Agenda Setting Theory in the essence that it is goes further into defining the role of the media in agenda setting (Goffman, 1974). Framing Theory advances that the media frames the minds of it audience to think about a particular topic from a specific angle or point of view. As such, the media is thought to focus attention by placing the context of various events in a field of meaning (Scheufele, 1999). The concept of framing is supposed to influence the audience in taking up a particular stance during discussions or issues of debate. The ‘frame’ which consists of ‘how something is presented to the audience will influences the choices that members of the audience make pertaining to the nature with which they will tend to process information pertaining to that topic (Fairhurst & Sarr, 1996). The Framing Theory is described as the second level of influence as far as agenda setting role of the media is concerned. In that respect, whereas the Agenda Setting Theory essentially advances that the media tells the audience what to think, the Framing Theory is more concerned about the angle the audience should take when thinking about the said issue. As such, the Framing Theory is all about how the audience thinks about such issues. The mind of the individual is shaped by their individual experiences (natural) and interactional experiences (social). Towards that end, the Framing Theory relies more on interactional experiences when shaping the mind set of individuals as they speak (Goffman, 1974). Framing Theory is of the notion that people are juxtaposed to defensiveness when faced by threatening entities. As such, when framing issues, the media will infer on fears of the public pertaining to certain agenda.
The framing theory proves essentially crucial in the development of the research report owing to the fact that it does focus the interpretation of the agenda by the media for the audience (Fairhurst & Sarr, 1996). In other words, the media takes it upon itself, the duty of judge and jury on matters of public interest. Consequently, the media will define what is acceptable or unacceptable, good or bad, right or wrong in various contexts pertaining to the Agenda in question (Goffman, 1974). As regards to the question of police brutality against African-American males, the Framing Theory recognizes the fact that the media has a critical role to play as regard the perceptions of audiences. In particular, an evaluation of the description given of African-American males involved in cases of police brutality are presented. In essence, the interpretation of the media as regards the character, appearance, and conduct of African-American males takes centre stage (Yi, 2015; Fox L. R., 2015). Framing Theory, therefore, is evaluated as having taken a social framework approach where the killing of African-Americans by police is not framed in the context of police brutality. Instead, social factors or events are blamed for the errand killings of African-American males by law enforcement. It is imperative to understand how Framing Theory explains how the media shapes the perceptions of the public as relates to the plight of African-American males shot by police officers. As such, the Framing Theory is core to understanding how statistics about deaths of African-American males in the hands of authorities is understood and interpreted by the media. Moreover, it also helps develop an understanding of how the media communicates information regarding instances of confrontation between authorities and African-American males. The Framing Theory proves fundamentally crucial to the evaluation of content with regard to the angle taken by traditional and modern forms of media when reporting on police brutality especially when African-Americans are shot by police officers.