Essentially Criminals: A Transatlantic Content Analysis of Immigration Coverage and Readers' Reactions
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This dissertation investigated the relationship between news coverage of immigration and readers' reaction to such coverage. Quantitative content analysis was used to study the subject with a comparative approach across regions that constitute borderlands between first and second world countries: the state of Arizona in the United States of America and Italy in the European Union. Coders analyzed content of 800 stories published by four daily newspapers in 2013. Degree of antipathy or sympathy for immigrants was assessed from 1,470 online comments posted by readers of those stories. Hypotheses stemming from theories of national identity were tested to evaluate frames used to talk about immigration in the outlets considered and audiences' feedback while controlling for regional particularities. News coverage of immigration was generally unfavorable to immigrants in both Arizona and Italy. Readers commenting online on immigration did generally not empathize with immigrants. No statistically significant correlation was found between degree of antipathy or sympathy for immigrants expressed in online comments and stories' degree of unfavorableness or favorability to immigrants. The study also concluded that the Associated Press style change banning "illegal immigrant" from a journalist's vocabulary resulted in a sharp decrease of use of the phrase in the pair of Arizona dailies examined. Frames criminalizing immigrants appeared with comparable frequency across all four newspapers considered. Nationalistic and patriotic attitudes recorded in the studies carried out across multiple countries did not provide the sociological lens suited to explaining the tone of journalistic coverage of immigration addressed in this study and the public's reaction to such coverage. However, stories framed episodically provided more positive representations of immigrants than stories framed thematically, and readers' reaction seemed less antipathetic to immigrants. Previous comparative research of immigration coverage recommended that journalists write fewer human interest stories and more articles providing context and analysis of the issue. Representations of immigrants in the four dailies and attitudes emerging from online comments analyzed in this study, instead, suggest that journalists should focus on human interest stories to reframe immigration issues and reverse the often stereotypical nature of immigration coverage.