Representations of Poverty in Canada's Daily Press: An Exploratory Study of Contending Poverty Paradigms

Kate Rafter
School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
November, 2002
 

Abstract


This thesis explores the ways in which Canadian poverty is represented in mainstream Canadian news media. The examination begins with the dominant poverty paradigms that characterize current poverty discourse. These paradigms, identified as Individual Responsibility, Structural Responsibility, and the Culture of Poverty, help to structure the ways that poverty has been and continues to be articulated. The paradigm of Individual Responsibility suggests that the individual is ultimately responsible for his or her own socio-economic conditions. The paradigm of Structural Responsibility suggests that various socio-economic structures are responsible for the creation of poverty and the subsequent management of the poor. The Culture of Poverty paradigm and its Right Wing variant the Underclass suggest that due to isolation from the non-poor mainstream society, certain poor communities have developed a variety of specific and sometimes deviant characteristics and values that promote the reproduction of poverty within that community. This discussion is followed by a theoretical overview of representation, discourse, and the codes and techniques associated with the production of “objective” news. Here, this thesis discusses the importance of the inverted pyramid, frames of reference, primary definers, and constructed dichotomies. Finally, this thesis offers a content analysis of poverty articles as they appear over a 2-month period in The Vancouver Sun, The Vancouver Province, and The Globe and Mail, three large-circulation Canadian newspapers. Based upon this analysis, this thesis suggests that news media tend to reinforce beliefs associated with the paradigm of Structural Responsibility. This is due to: news media’s preference for official and institutional interpretations of events and issues; the prevalence of stories about particular institutions and structural decisions; the dominance of stories written by generalists trained to recognize and maximize general newsworthiness; and the prevalence of event-based coverage.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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