The Role of Media in Trayvon Martin's Case

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Table of Contents

  • Research Proposal
  • Theoretical Implications
  • Methods
  • Conclusion

“An issue frame is ‘a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events, weaving a connection among them... A frame can suggest explicitly that we should view an issue in certain terms,” Winter (2006). A framing effect occurs when “in the course of describing an issue or event, a speaker’s emphasis on a subset of potentially relevant considerations causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions,” Druckman et al (2013). Traditional news media platforms and journalists can frame news stories in particular ways to shift perspective. Winter (2006) also mentions that “Similarly, criminal justice policy making has been associated with race, and white public opinion on crime is importantly associated with racial considerations.” While this study doesn’t deal with policymaking directly, you can see that our judicial system has racial undertones.

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Research Proposal

From slavery to present day, Africcan-Americans have been specifically targeted by white people, specifically, law enforcement. In my proposed research, I want to take a look at how journalists frame stories about police brutality and excessive force, and how those frames construct versions of public narratives. I want to take a specific look at the case of Trayvon Martin. The incident received national media attention, which attempted to piece together the events that transpired between Zimmerman’s phone call and law enforcement’s arrival. News media quickly brought up the topic of race, comparing the incident to other racially-charged incidents, most notably the Rodney King beating. One way of introducing race into the Trayvon Martin story is in the following excerpt from The Daily Beast:

Trial of George Zimmerman Could Trigger Another Rodney King As George Zimmerman faces murder charges for shooting Trayvon Martin, it’s worth asking if America is in danger of facing Rodney King, Part II? (Frazier, 18 Apr. 2012, par. 1)

This article was published almost a decade after the original issue, which indicates the cultural power & memory of certain events and the narratives that define them. Through this study I plan to learn how journalists frame these events, and how these frames affected the African-American community’s view on police.My research addresses the question: how do media frames, in cases like Trayvon Martin, help to shape race narratives?

Theoretical Implications

Winter (2006) goes a step further to give a breakdown of the race schema structure, saying that there are particular attributes that come with the white-black racial schema. He includes familiar stereotypes that Blacks are lazy, poor, and subject to discrimination, and whites as well-off and independent. These stereotypes play into how African-Americans are viewed in the present day, and might be one of the reasons that African-American people are continuously slain by white officers. There’s a myriad of cases where white officers excessively shoot and kill African-Americans.


The research will look at how narratives are formed through journalists and traditional news media. I would show how journalists’ use of linguistic frames, like racism and criminal justice, helps to shape readers’ understanding of the events. I would go about this through a mixed methods study. I would start with a content analysis to explore the case of Trayvon Martin. I would perform a content analysis of news coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death to evaluate how the news media covered the event. Then I would conduct an experiment, using the findings from the content analysis, to determine how the news media framing of the event influenced African-American evaluations of the incident.


The role of news media in shaping and responding to public discourse has been well documented. As discussed in previous weeks, the media tells stories that represent particular points of view. In short, news media significantly contribute to our understanding of the world and our positions within it. 

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