In search of the creation of news frames in Flemish newspapers: The case of the Belgian ‘Syria warriors’

J.L.J. Boesman, A. Berbers, L. d'Haenens, B. Van Gorp

    Research output: Contribution to ConferenceAbstractOther research output


    This paper investigates the framing construction of Flemish newspaper journalists regarding the so-called ‘Syria-warriors’.
    When the Syrian conflict developed, the rebels against the Assad regim were joined by young muslims from Western European countries. Figures of the number of Belgian fighters in Syria reached the national press in early 2013, without much attention. Suddenly, in March 2013, the ‘Syria-warriors’ became huge news when two recruits turned out to be ‘ordinary Flemish boys’ converted to Islam. Despite the mixed origins of Brian De Mulder and Jejoen Bontinck (their mothers are Brazilian and Nigerian respectively), the first news articles accentuated their Flemish surname and Catholic education. The idea that ‘It could have been your son’ was used as a tool to bring the news to the Flemish audience. When the story progressed, and spread from the popular to the quality press, other frames came into action.
    This study examines the framing of the ‘Syria warriors’ by an inductive and qualitative approach, inspired by a constructionist view on framing. By interviewing journalists in search of the origin of the frames, the researchers’ interpretations could be confronted with the frames intended by the news makers themselves. In framing research, the question of how frames arise is largely sidestepped. Only a few articles studied the production process of framing.
    The main research questions were: What is the relation between news selection, news values and framing? Is an event selected because of a frame already packed in the source material or is the frame attributed to an event by the journalists themselves? And how happened the frame-building in the newsroom? Is it the outcome of an autonomous’ evaluation of an event by a reporter? To what extent is it pitched by news managers or made more clear by copy editors?
    This case study is part of a broader research project on the origin of news frames in Flemish newspapers, conducted in March and April 2013, the period in which the story of the ‘Syria-warriors’ emerged. It collects material from four newsrooms, belonging to two different media groups (Corelio and De Persgroep), each with a quality newspaper (De Standaard and De Morgen) and a popular newspaper (Het Nieuwsblad and Het Laatste Nieuws). For a six-week period, the output of 20 domestic news reporters – five randomly selected per newspaper – was content analyzed. Regularly semi-structured interviews, supplemented by newsroom observations, lead to the reconstruction of 680 articles. Additional interviews were held with copy editors, news managers and editors-in-chief.
    Preliminary results highlight the influence of certain news values (exclusivity, proximity) on the framing of the ‘Syria-warriors’. Further, the process of frame-building is more guided by factors outside the individual reporter in centrally organized and top-down structured newsrooms. Rather than being pushed to write a story in a certain way, reporters ‘internalized’ their newspapers’ vision of news making. They have learnt what kind of angles get a chance to be approved. The moving story of the ‘Flemish boys’ is also seen as a journalistic strategy to create more commitment with the complicated Syrian conflict.
    Original languageDutch
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    EventEtmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap - Wageningen, the Netherlands
    Duration: 3 Feb 20144 Feb 2014


    ConferenceEtmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap

    Bibliographical note

    Place of publication: Wageningen, the Netherlands

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