National Center for Transit Research | A Program of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida
Call Us: 1-813-974-3120

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

(Center Identification Number: 79062-19)

Principal Investigator:

Julie Bond
Senior Research Associate
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Ave, CUT100
Tampa, FL  33620
Phone: (813) 974-9799
Email: jmbond@cutr.usf.edu

Project Scope:

TAMPA — A man wearing dark clothing and riding a bicycle was killed when he was hit by a car early Sunday on Hillsborough Avenue. The accident happened about 5 a.m. at the intersection with Lois Avenue. Jerome Thomas, 44, was riding a bike north, across Hillsborough Avenue, about 300 feet west of the intersection, when he was hit by a car in the eastbound lanes, according to Tampa police. Thomas died at the scene. The car’s driver, Lorenzo Rodriguez, 57, was not issued any traffic citations, police said (“Bicyclist killed crossing Hillsborough,” 2014).

The above media report appears to be a simple description of the material world. The language is typical of traffic crash reports for Hillsborough County, Florida. The report is considered a credible source of information from a local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. However, a close examination of the report reveals the significance of what has long been of interest to critical discourse analysts; the language used by the authors. For instance, the first sentence in the report demonstrates the most active type of clause-structure: transitive verbs (wearing, riding, killed), a human subject (a man), and an object (he) which undergoes change through the process described by the verbs (killed when he was hit by a car).

In the first sentence of the report, the man who was killed by a motorist is an actor or agent and is both the subject and the object in the sentence. He is in control of choices that have caused the process of being hit and killed by a car to unfold. The motorist is deleted from the sentence and replaced with a passive, inanimate object (hit by a car), and the bicyclist’s relationships to others and his environment are deleted as well, while his responsibility as an individual is not. The language choices of the authors frame the man on the bicycle as separate from the motorist, the police, the engineers and planners who build local infrastructure, the newspaper’s readership, and the newspaper itself.

The purpose of this project is to examine the linguistic choices (e.g., vocabulary, grammar, structure) that frame the relationships between bicyclists and other parties involved in fatal crash events, while attending to and interrogating sociocultural contexts. Linguistic choices form patterns that (re)occur and re(produce) systems of meaning that shape urban landscapes and the social identities of bicyclists and motorists. This interdisciplinary study is a unique contribution to transportation literature as it employs a methodology that is typically reserved for communication scholars and linguists; critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a rigorous qualitative method that is used to analyze both oral and written communication. Discourse analysts identify language as a site of ideological struggle, putting emphasis on creative outcomes and the prospect of social change. In this study, textual data are collected via media reports of bicyclist traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Hillsborough County has a disproportionately high number of bicyclist fatalities, making it an appropriate and necessary site of transportation inquiry. From 2010 through 2017 there were 81 bicyclist traffic fatalities reported in Hillsborough County through the Florida’s Integrated Report Exchange System (FIRES).  The names of the bicyclists and dates and locations of the crashes will be compiled, and the information utilized to effectively search all news stories related to the crashes.  The news stories will be coded and analyzed using Norman Fairclough’s procedure for critical discourse analysis (1989) to enhance our understandings of transportation culture in Hillsborough County. The research will include an evaluation the social effects of a “common sense” or “taken for granted” lexicon of transportation by examining the nuances of language that shape (and are shaped by) sociocultural contexts.

This research project will also provide a dataset with diverse potential for conducting further research with similar objectives. Future transportation studies should compare textual features of news reports in Hillsborough County to news reports in other areas. Regional differences in vernacular may affect local transportation culture and policy, and henceforth correlate with the frequency of bicyclist fatalities. Other factors viable for comparison include differences in urban environments, infrastructure, and law enforcement policies. For instance, police reports are institutional texts that function to inform media and influence representations of bicyclists, providing yet another source of linguistic data. Finally, both this project and potential future projects are viable for replication with a focus on pedestrian fatalities. Understanding the complex roles of media in shaping perceptions of bicyclists may help identify effective means to change language in reporting. It has been argued that people’s overall perception of road traffic risks typically draws on media reporting as well as their personal perceptions of risk in their everyday lives (Hojman et al., 2005).

Project Objectives

This research seeks to gain an understanding of the complex roles of the media in shaping perceptions of a vulnerable road user group, and will help identify effective means to change language in local media reporting for fatal crashes involving bicyclists. Objectives include:

Maintain a dataset with diverse potential for conducting further research, examples are:

  • Future transportation studies should compare textual features of news reports in Hillsborough County to news reports in other areas. Regional differences in vernacular may affect local transportation culture and policy, and henceforth correlate with the frequency of bicyclist fatalities.
  • Other factors viable for comparison include differences in urban environments, infrastructure, and law enforcement policies. For instance, police reports are institutional texts that function to inform media and influence representations of bicyclists, providing yet another source of linguistic data.
  • A quantitative systematic analysis of “at fault” assignments in police reports of bicyclist fatalities to determine correlation of inaccurate fault assignments with other data points (e.g., age, race, gender, income)
  • Both this project and potential future projects are viable for replication with a focus on pedestrian fatalities.

Evaluate the social effects of a “common sense” or “taken for granted” lexicon of transportation.

Illustrate the nuances of language that shape (and are shaped by) institutional contexts to maintain social order.

Tasks/Deliverables

The following tasks are necessary to achieve the objectives and deliverables.

Project Kickoff Meeting

The principal investigator will schedule a kickoff meeting with the project manager and the research team that shall be held within the first 30 days of task work order execution.  The purpose of the meeting is to review the tasks, deliverables, deployment plan, timeline, and expected/anticipated project outcomes and their potential for implementation and benefits.

Task 1: Literature Review

The research team will conduct a comprehensive literature review of relevant studies that have investigated discourse analysis and the relationship of the media to traffic crash reporting.  Research regarding trends in local newspaper reporting and the role of the media in shaping the dynamics of bicycling or other modes of transportation will be of particular interest.  Databases that will be searched include TRID, PsychINFO, Communication Abstracts, and Social Science Abstracts.

 

Deliverable:

  • Written report of the literature review

Task 2: Data Collection and Analysis

2.1 Collect and compile bicyclist fatality data. Data will be collected and complied for all bicycle fatalities reported in Hillsborough County, Florida from 2010 to 2017.  Police reports will be utilized from each jurisdiction responsible for the investigation in Hillsborough County (e.g. City of Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County Sheriff, City of Tampa, and City of Plant City).  The research team previously identified 81 fatalities occurring during this time period and within the identified boundaries.  Data collected will include all available information for the bicyclist and the driver involved in the fatal crash.  The data set will be comprehensive and include name, age, gender, home address, crash location, date of crash, day of week, time of crash, distance from home to crash for both the driver and the bicyclist.  The name of the bicyclist killed in the crash is necessary to obtain to effectively search media reports.

2.2 Collect and compile media reportsData will be collected from local news sources including the Tampa Bay Times, WSTP 10 News, The Ledger, The Herald Tribune, News 13, Bay News 9, Fox 13 Tampa Bay, WUSF Public Media, The Global Dispatch, Associated Press, The Jacksonville Observer, ABC Action News, Westchase Patch, Brandon Patch, North Escambia News, and Lutz Patch. Google News and Internet Archive (archive.org) will be utilized to search the various available media publications for available crash information, including the names of Hillsborough County bicyclists and the locations of fatal bicycle crashes. All existing published news reports about each bicyclist that can be found will be collected. News reports will then be converted to a .PDF file format using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis (QDA) computer software that will be used for data analysis of the information collected. The software is designed for qualitative researchers working with very rich text-based and/or multimedia information, where deep levels of analysis on small or large volumes of data are required. After the data is entered and coded, the research team will classify, sort and arrange information and examine relationships in the data. Prior to coding, all data must be cleaned and crosschecked to ensure accuracy.

2.3 Qualitative data analysis. The media analysis begins with open coding of collected data to identify potential codes, or language patterns that occur frequently in news reports. The basic coding process continues with selective coding; in this case, data are coded for thematic and episodic frames, codes that were developed before the study began. The predetermined codes reflect the binary of framing types identified by both media researchers and discourse analysts (Bernstein, 1976; Iyengar, 1991). The second round of coding revises, combines, and refines existing codes, a process of axial coding, or finding links between codes. The final phase of coding focuses on specific language features that emerge as a result of the previous phases of coding, and organizes those practices into a comprehensive schema. To ensure coding accuracy, double-coding is performed at this level to determine intercoder reliability.

The procedure that will be used for this critical analysis develops an explanation of the social effects of the language patterns identified. In his 1989 seminal work, “Language and Power,” Norman Fairclough describes his procedure for critical discourse analysis in three stages: description, interpretation, and explanation. Each stage involves close examinations of grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and relationships between social roles and realities. The result of this rigorous process of examining language patterns is used to understand how language functions to shape the material world.

Deliverable:

  • Written summary of the data collection and data analysis

Task 3: Draft Final Report and TRB Paper Submission

The draft final report will meet the stated objectives and contain a critical analysis of the complex roles of the media in shaping perceptions of bicyclists, one of the vulnerable road user groups.  The report will identify effective means to change language in local media reporting for fatal crashes involving bicyclists.  The report must be well written and edited for technical accuracy, grammar, clarity, organization, and format.  A paper will be submitted to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) by August 1, 2018.

Deliverable:  Thirty days prior to the end date of the task work order, the principal investigator will submit a draft final report to the project manager.

Task 4: Final Report and Closeout Meeting

Thirty days prior to the end date of the task work order, the principal investigator will schedule and hold a closeout meeting with the project manager.  The purpose of the meeting is to review project performance, the deployment plan, and next steps. A final report will be submitted by the principal investigator to the project manager at the closeout meeting.

Deliverable:  Final report and closeout meeting.

Designated Personnel

Julie Bond, Principal Investigator

Erin Scheffels, Post Doc Student

Graduate Student Researcher

Project Schedule

The total performance period for this project is 9 months.

 

Leave a Reply

Please complete the simple math problem prior to submitting your comment. This reduces spam. Thanks! * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Sponsors

  • Florida Department of Transportation
  • US Department of Transportation

Archives

Address

National Center for Transit Research c/o Center for Urban Transportation Research 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 Tampa, FL 33620-5375