Issue emergence, evolution of controversy, and implications for competitive framing: The case of the HPV vaccine

Erika Franklin Fowler, Sarah E. Gollust, Amanda F. Dempsey, Paula M. Lantz, Peter A. Ubel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations


Although scholarship on competitive framing acknowledges that framing is a dynamic process in which the early stages may matter most, very little research has focused on the dynamics of issue emergence. In this article, we draw on several literatures to develop theories for how controversy related to new issues will emerge and expand in news coverage. Through a comprehensive content analysis of 101 local newspapers across the fifty U.S. states, we explore the dynamic and evolving process wherein a new issue-the HPV vaccine-emerged into public discourse and a legislative debate over school requirements for vaccination began. We find that coverage of controversy is a function of proximity, driven primarily by events within a state, although external events also influence local coverage. We also find that the legislative discussion in the media did not necessarily start out as controversial, but as the issue evolved, we observe a large increase in the proliferation of both actors taking positions and the types of arguments made to influence debate. The findings yield important insight into issue emergence with implications for how future research might test competing frames to better understand how the presentation of controversy in the mass media affects public opinion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-189
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Press/Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012


  • health
  • media framing
  • news production
  • news reporting
  • political conflict

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