Nanotech Database

Article Title:
The Framing of Nanotechnologies in the British Newspaper Press

Anderson, Alison

Journal Information:
Science Communication
Vol. 27, Num. 2


Anders, et. al, investigate how developments in nanotechnology were discussed in the British national newspaper press during April 2003 to June 2004. They find that remarks by by Prince Charles in April 2003 created a spike in newspaper reporting for the next 15 months. Reeling from public backlash to GM innovations, industry has learned the painful lesson that the public and the media must be engaged. Anders says, "For the purposes of this study, our research agenda revolves around a series of questions. Taken together, they define the objectives of our enquiry: specifically, how have news stories on nanotechnologies been framed during this time period in different sections of the national newspaper press? Which claims makers have been featured most often in the coverage, and to what extent have they been portrayed as credible, expert sources? And, finally, when, and under what circumstances, have certain issues, themes, and debates gained prominence?" To conduct the study, the daily newspapers sampled were The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror, The Sun, and The Daily Star. The Sunday newspapers sampled were The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph,The Independent on Sunday, The Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Express, The Sunday Mirror, and The News of the World. She says, "[o]ur findings suggest that the press coverage during the period under scrutiny was concentrated in a relatively small number of elite newspapers. Eighty-six percent (n = 296) originated from the ten sampled daily newspa-pers and 14 percent (n = 48) from the eight sampled Sunday newspapers." Thus, the visibility of nanotechnology issues was restricted to readers of generally middle-class white-collar status. Story frames were generally science or business-oriented. Anders shows that "nanotechnology... firmly entered the political and media arena, with ...two sides of the debate... advocates being Lord Sainsbury, Tony Blair, and Ian Gibson and critics being Prince Charles, Caroline Lucas, and the ETC Group..." She also notes that "the single most prevalent news source referred to in our sample period was Michael Crichton's novel Prey, with twenty-two references." In summary, she says "our study suggests that the newspaper coverage tended to simplify and individualize complex scientific debates by aligning news sources in a manner that accentuated their differing positions." Overall, reporting outside the celebrity umbra suggested that newspapers reflected a general optimism about nanotechnology, with the benefits outweighing the risks. Certainly, the involvement of a celebrity makes an issue seem more newsworthy.