Thursday, September 27, 2018, 12:00PM (ET)

Media Framing of Fatal Bicyclist Crashes in Hillsborough County: A Critical Discourse Analysis

This research examines the linguistic choices that frame the relationships between bicyclists and other parties involved in fatal crash events. Textual data were collected via media reports of bicyclist traffic fatalities between January 2009 and June 2018 in Hillsborough County, Florida, which has a disproportionately high number of bicyclist and pedestrian deaths compared to other metropolitan areas of the United States. The reports were coded with qualitative data software for repeated textual features and analyzed using Norman Fairclough’s procedure for critical discourse analysis (CDA), a rigorous qualitative method used to analyze both oral and written communication. The primary purpose of CDA in this study is to examine and critique common modes of discourse about bicyclist fatalities; through CDA, the researchers examine how linguistic choices produce meaning and reinforce the “common sense” or “taken for granted” lexicon of transportation. Coding categories, or “nodes,” were created based on Fairclough’s general categories of “experiential” and “expressive” codes. Experiential codes focus on vocabulary, words/wording, classifications, grammar, and sentence structure. Expressive codes center on the producer of the text’s content, particularly related to the evaluation of subjects, identities, and outcomes. In addition to the content of language, Fairclough’s method also draws attention to the general framing, or “schemata” of content. While episodic framing is used to report specific events and concrete circumstances, thematic framing presents news that accentuates political issues and events in some general context.

The results show that the majority of news reports were episodic rather than thematic, focusing on the traffic event and the parties involved in the crash, particularly the bicyclist. The vocabulary, grammatical structure, and narrative framing of the news reports largely functioned to remove blame from the motorist and to highlight the bicyclist’s actions. The main strategies used to remove motorist agency and highlight bicyclist responsibility include nominalizations, passive sentences, and omission of motorist names or human identifiers. These linguistic strategies strengthen the perception that the responsibility for safety rests on the bicyclist and detracts attention from social policy reform that would lead to fewer bicyclist fatalities. A minority of articles written with thematic frames focused on larger issues such as social capital, safety and advocacy, and infrastructure. This interdisciplinary study is a unique contribution to transportation literature as it employs a methodology typically reserved for communication scholars and linguists; it identifies language as a site of power relationships and emphasizes language outcomes toward social change. Download Handout

Presenters: Julie Bond and Erin Scheffels, Ph.D.,  CUTR

Julie Bond, MPA is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida with over 20 years of experience in transportation demand management programs and bicycle/pedestrian safety research. She serves as the Principal Investigator for multiple research projects and manages local Tampa Bay pedestrian and bicyclist safety programs. She holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of South Florida and a BS in Business Administration from Southern Utah University.

Erin Scheffels earned a PhD in Communication at the University of South Florida in August of 2018. Her areas of interest include health communication, end of life communication, and relational communication, while her preferred modes of inquiry are discourse analysis and ethnography. At CUTR she writes about pedestrian and bicyclist safety issues and is working with Senior Research Assistant and Bike/Walk Tampa Bay Program Director Julie Bond on a qualitative media study entitled “Media Framing of Fatal Bicycle Crashes in Hillsborough County: A Critical Discourse Analysis.”


Please take a few minutes to complete the evaluation.

  1. Thank you Christine. We hope you enjoyed the webinar.

  2. Very excited to hear your findings.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.