Let’s talk about framing.
“Framing” refers to the choices we make about how to tell a story. The words we use, the tone we take, the people we quote and the people we don’t quote—all those little things affect the way people hear a story and the impressions they take away.
This is awfully postmodern of me, but there’s really no such thing as an unvarnished, unfiltered, truly “neutral” way of telling a story. When you read a news article in the paper or hear one on the radio, what you’re getting is a picture in a frame—and that frame has a very real impact on how you interpret the information you’re receiving.
Nothing inherently wrong with this, so long as we’re all aware of it. The frame is invisible—it’s often hard to spot—but as long as we all pay attention, we’re good.
But when we forget to be aware—when we start taking the frame for granted—when reporters mindlessly perpetuate the same frames over and over and when the consumers of media begin to see those frames as gospel truth—well, that’s when people start getting hurt.
Case in point: UNC versus Michigan State.
I’m not talking about basketball.
I’m talking about “riots.”
On Saturday night, the Michigan State Spartans upset Ohio State to win the Big 10 title and make the Rose Bowl for the first time in 26 years. Afterwards, about 3,000 students gathered for a postgame celebration at Cedar Village, an apartment complex at the edge of campus. There were a number of bonfires—students setting their old couches ablaze, mostly—and that was about it. Cedar Village reported about $10,000 in external property damage, but that was the worst of it. There were no injuries.
East Lansing police went ballistic.
So did Michigan State University officials.
And the media.
Here are some of the choicer bits.
From Fox Sports: “East Lansing police say at least 15 people were arrested during a rowdy celebration of Michigan State’s victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game…Police are offering up to $20,000 for tips that lead to convictions…Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo says he’s disgusted and disappointed by what happened.”
From WILX, a local TV station: “The victory party may be over, but the consequences for the people celebrating in the streets may just be beginning…the city and the University are cracking down, vowing to prosecute as many people as possible involved in a post-game celebration that featured furniture fires…MSU has also vowed disciplinary action, after President Lou Anna K. Simon called the post-game behavior ‘disappointing.’”
Also from WILX, this quote from University spokesperson Kent Casella: “Any student identified as taking part in setting or fueling fires will be subject to the MSU student judicial process, regardless of any criminal charges being filed…If a student is found in violation, he or she faces sanctions ranging from warning to dismissal.”
And from the State News, the MSU student paper, this headline in all caps: “RIOTERS DESCEND ON CEDAR VILLAGE; FIRES, CHAOS ENSUE.”
This is standard practice in East Lansing, Michigan. It’s been this way for fifteen years. Back in 1999 there was a legitimate riot that caused a quarter of a million dollars in damage, and ever since then we’ve had it in our heads that every student celebration is a “riot” or an “emergency situation” that requires tear gas and riot police and mass arrests and fines and jail time and threats of expulsion. Sometimes actual expulsion.
This is how these student gatherings are framed at MSU. And everyone’s complicit in it. East Lansing police assume it’s their job to stop the party altogether, so they’re in hostile-situation mode from the get-go; that provokes the students, who respond by provoking the police, everything escalates and out comes the tear gas. Reporters invariably call them “riots” and focus all their attention on the cost, the damage, the arrests, the tut-tutting over drunken students gone wild. University officials shift into damage-control mode—denouncing the students who take part, disassociating them from the University as much as possible, and seizing every opportunity to insist that MSU as a whole is comprised of good, decent students who would never participate in such rowdy, drunken shenanigans.
And residents in the area go along with it. “Way to spoil a wonderful night,” writes one commenter on the State News story. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves.” Words like “embarrassing” keep cropping up. Words like “garbage.” Somebody else wrote on Facebook: “The players and coaches must be thrilled to know their victory gets overshadowed by the antics of drunken vandals.”
There’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to “Michigan State University student riots.”
People in the Lansing area take all of this for granted. Most folks there can’t imagine these “riots” being interpreted any other way.
Folks in Chapel Hill know better.
In 2009, you see…
Well. You can watch the video for yourself. The staff at the Daily Tar Heel put it together, to commemorate the glorious post-game “celebration” of UNC’s national championship (over Michigan State, ironically enough).
Check out that video. It’s all there, plain as day. After the game, 45,000 people, most of them students, many of them drunk as hell, massed on Franklin Street. Fires were set, multiple fires, up and down the road, and folks jumped in and out of them all night long. Students climbed on town-owned streetlights and shook them until they nearly toppled. The “Columbia Street” sign was forcibly yanked down; people later used it to crowd-surf.
I could go on. Sexual assaults got reported. There were injuries. Chapel Hill’s chief of police said he saw someone climb a light pole and try to saw through a power line with a pocket knife. Tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. All told it cost the Town of Chapel Hill $200,000.
Did it make the national news as a “riot”? Was there hand-wringing? Mass arrests? Tear gas? Cops in riot gear? Threats of expulsion? Is UNC forever tainted as a result?
Nope. Exactly the opposite. It’s a watershed moment in Chapel Hill’s recent history. Everybody remembers it fondly.
In fact UNC sells glossy portraits of the celebration online, on the University’s official website, for anyone who wants to relive the moment. Glossy portraits!
Oh, sure, there was talk afterward of how the town could have better handled the situation. No doubt.
Three guesses how that played out.
From WRAL: “(Then-student body president Jasmin) Jones suggests getting a screen so the best game moments can be replayed. She would also like to have a sidewalk deejay…Jones also would like several beach balls to take the place of partiers who normally bounce on top of the large crowd.”
From the Daily Tar Heel: “Former Student Body President J.J. Raynor suggested giving out free food to keep people from drinking as much.”
The town did hold one forum on the matter. At the forum, town officials said it was worth discussing how to improve safety in the future, but unanimously insisted the “celebrations” were “central to UNC’s heritage.”
And what got done? Quoth the DTH: “Attendees were encouraged to remain involved with continued safety efforts by writing down their names and e-mail addresses to receive more information. No other concrete plans were made for moving forward.”
That’s framing for you. Right there.
Seriously, read all those stories I linked to up there, first about MSU, then about UNC. Tell me the difference isn’t jawdropping.
Oh, you think there was some sort of difference between the two gatherings? It couldn’t have just been media framing?
Cool. Below are ten pictures. Four are from the MSU “riot” after the Ohio State game, screencapped from the WILX report. Six are from the UNC “celebration” on Franklin Street in 2009, screencapped from the DTH’s YouTube video.
Can you tell them apart? No cheating!
Answer: the first two and the last two are from Michigan State; the six in the middle are from UNC. Some of those are gimmes: the Columbia Street sign is obviously in Chapel Hill, and the riot police are obviously East Lansing. Can you imagine if the CHPD had broken out the riot gear and the assault weapons in 2009? Seriously, can you imagine?
Now, what do we make of all this? What galls me, personally, is the inconsistency. MSU students have been expelled, arrested, harshly punished by the law—they’ve had their lives ruined, in other words. If they’d been UNC students doing the exact same thing, they’d practically have carrels named after them at the library.
This is not to say that we’re doing it wrong in Chapel Hill.
In fact, looking at the two situations side by side, it’s pretty obvious that Chapel Hill’s the one that’s gotten it right. In Chapel Hill, town/gown relations are not toxic, so police don’t automatically assume that students are the enemy. Town officials see it as their job to manage and facilitate the celebration, not to put a stop to it at all costs—and so the situation gets managed. It’s not antagonistic. People don’t get vilified in the national media. They don’t have their lives ruined. It’s better here.
But let’s be clear about this: it is NOT better here because the students are better behaved. UNC students and MSU students behave exactly the same way, just like Tennessee students and Baylor students and Cal Tech students and students everywhere else that students gather. If it is better here, it is better because of the way we’ve framed it—as a “celebration” instead of a “riot,” as “excited” rather than “drunken,” as “rambunctious” rather than “violent.”
I’m watching the framing happen all over again at Michigan State this week. It wasn’t as big a “riot” as in years past, so there’s not as much hand-wringing—but still, all the talk has been “you ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” “we’re so disappointed in this behavior,” “we’re going to prosecute these people to the fullest extent of the law.” It makes me sick.
It could be worse, I guess. Michigan State students get the short end of the stick here, but they’re hardly the only ones. African-Americans after Hurricane Katrina, for instance, were invariably depicted as “looting” food by the national media, while their white counterparts were depicted as “finding” or “salvaging” food from the same stores. And let’s also save some sympathy for Woodstock ’99, that supposed anarchic chaotic violence-fest. Did you know three times as many people died at the original Woodstock back in ’69? Peace and love, pshaw.
But if you find yourself reading about the “riots” at MSU—or anything else, for that matter—do yourself a favor and stop to reflect on how the story’s being framed. What’s being assumed? What are the words that keep getting used? How else could the story be told, and why isn’t the story being told that way? It’s vital for consumers of media to ask these questions, and it’s vital for reporters to ask them too—otherwise we’ll find ourselves caught in the framing loop, and we’ll start forgetting how to see the world any other way.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go frame this portrait of a bonfire at Cedar Village.
Rose Bowl, baby! Rose Bowl!http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/unc-msu-celebrations-riots-media-framing/
CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Police Sgt. Bryan Walker confirmed Wednesday at 10:35 a.m. that Franklin Street was closed in both directions between Estes Dr and Elliott Rd for a natural gas leak.
Sgt. Walker said he was unaware of any evacuations in the area. EMS and gas crews were on the scene managing the incident.http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/franklin-street-from-estes-dr-to-elliott-rd-closed-natural-gas-leak/
CHAPEL HILL – Franklin Street is well-known in the Triangle as a Halloween hotspot; but police try to downsize the party more and more each year.
The most worn costume on Franklin Street Thursday night may be a police uniform. But these officers won’t be playing pretend.
“We are bringing in several hundred officers from departments all over the Triangle area,” Chapel Hill Public Information Officer, Sgt. Bryan Walker says.
Walker says the town of Chapel Hill is doing everything it can to limit the guest list for the annual celebration.
“We’ve tried to reduce the size of the crowd, and we’ve been fairly successful at doing that over the last few years, making it more of a local celebration,” Walker says, “As much fun as it is to come to Franklin and see the festivities, if you’re coming from out of town you’re going to have a hard time getting here.”
Shuttles to Franklin from outlying areas will be limited for crowd control. Lane and street closures downtown will make parking essentially unavailable.
Walker says they each Halloween is planned around lessons learned in years past. He says alcohol is the main cause of issues every year. He asks that pre-Franklin partying be kept under control
“We would encourage everyone that is going to be drinking before coming to Franklin Street to drink responsibly,” Walker says.
Walker also says it’s important to keep track of your friends whereabouts, and stay together.
“Don’t get separated and trust that your companions will make it home on their own,” Walker says.
Thursday night is a no-pets-allowed event.
“We have had a problem in years past with someone bringing a snake to an event like this,” Walker says, “When you’re in that crowd, shoulder to shoulder, and you’ve got a snake hanging around your neck, it tends to make people nervous.”
A few other things Walker says you should leave out of your bag of tricks and treats are weapons, fireworks, flammable substances, or anything that may be considered a threat to safety.
Aside from the rules in place to protect people, Walker says the Chapel Hill Police Department wants you to have a good time.
“We’re looking forward to this being another successful and safe Halloween in Chapel Hill,” Walker says.
Franklin Street will close to traffic, and open its door for the annual costume party at 9:00 p.m. Roads reopen two and a half hours later at 11:30.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/reducing-the-halloween-crowd-on-franklin-street/
CHAPEL HILL – A new law allowing concealed weapons on public school campuses and in restaurants took effect Tuesday; and it has some folks in Chapel Hill concerned.
***Listen to the Story***
Next time you visit your favorite restaurant or bar, you may be sitting next to someone with a gun. Adults at your child’s school may have a weapon stashed in their car on the campus parking lot.
And the North Carolina government says that’s okay. But we found out bar owners like Rob Moll disagree.
“It is a bad idea. I just don’t think everyone needs to be walking around carrying guns,” Moll says.
Moll is a co-owner of R & R Grill on Franklin Street.
The new law allows concealed weapons in restaurants and government-owned parking lots.
Moll and other near-by restaurant owners are taking action. “We put the sticker up that says ‘No guns allowed,’” says Moll, “We will not allow them, and that’s it.”
Take a stroll down Franklin Street, and you will notice the sticker on several restaurant windows.
Bar and restaurant owners have an opt-out option. But you may be surprised to hear public school officials don’t have the same. Guns are allowed on public school campuses, and no window sticker or sign can change that.
Public Information Officer for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Jeff Nash, says he doesn’t necessarily agree with the law, but it will be obeyed by the school system.
“It was a law that was passed apart from our input,” Nash says, “We will abide by it, but we don’t think there’s any need to have guns on campus.”
While the law permits concealed weapons on any public school campus, they must be stored in a closed compartment in a locked car.
Concealed weapons carriers who bring their weapons into bars or restaurants are not allowed to consume alcohol.
Advocates of the new North Carolina law say other states have adopted similar laws. They say those states did not see higher crime rates, or more gun use after the laws were passed.
But for now, bar owners like Moll remain skeptical.
“Guns and booze and things just don’t mix,” Moll says.http://chapelboro.com/news/business/guns-allowed-at-bars-and-on-campuses/
CHAPEL HILL – 1789 is the newest business incubator to open in Chapel Hill. It’s geared toward Carolina students and recent graduates, with the goal of supporting the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Following in the footsteps of Launch Chapel Hill, it will act as a feeder to its predecessor. Young entrepreneurs are already moving in to the space, with innovative ideas in the works.
UNC alum Aaron Scarboro has played a key role in getting 1789, which has arguably the coolest office space in Chapel Hill, up and running.
“We really want to be able to create an impact on the entrepreneurial community in the Triangle. We think we are filling a pretty big niche here. Launch is for the later-staged companies, and we are trying to focus on encouraging students who may have never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs before.” Scarboro said.
Named for the year when UNC was founded, 1789 is located above Four Corners and is replete with conference tables, a kitchen, sitting areas, and private phone booths. For times when venturists want a creative break, there’s a ping-pong table and arcade game machines. Scarboro explained it took a lot of work to get the space ready for business.
“The floor was dirty, walls and windows were all dirty and grimy,” Scarboro said. The windows were broken and had bars over them—it was an absolute wreck. Over the course of about three months, we did a great job of renovating it, and it is an awesome space now.”
1789 also has one of the best views in town, with wide, open windows looking onto Franklin Street.
“The idea behind 1789 was that this was going to be a workspace for students and graduates to come and be able to work on an idea. We didn’t want people closed off in their own office space. We definitely wanted ideas to be thrown around and people to interact with each other. We do have some private spaces but really we wanted an open collaborative space,” Scarboro said.
After overseeing the renovation process, Scarboro then transitioned into an administrative role. He says local businessman and philanthropist Jim Kitchen had the vision for 1789 and was also heavily involved in LaUNCh Chapel Hill. After just a few months, 1789 is currently home to eight business ventures, from fair trade clothing makers to video production specialists.
Chapel Hill native Mary Elizabeth Lovelace worked closely with Scarboro to open 1789.
“It’s been really exciting to see it transform from a space under construction to a working venture lab,” Lovelace said.
Lovelace graduated from the University of Richmond. She did not have access to a program like this during her college years, so she has enjoyed seeing the venturists take advantage of a great opportunity.
“It is awesome to watch the entrepreneurial ecosystem grow in Chapel Hill because it wasn’t like this five years ago. There’s been so much to increase it, and 1789 is a huge part of that,” Lovelace said.
She explained that all a student needs to get involved with 1789 is a viable idea and willingness to take risks.
“It is really exciting to see the students get fired up about their ideas and the possibilities within those ideas,” Lovelace said.
Senior Kailey Izzard is an entrepreneurship minor at UNC and is interning with 1789.
“I always had a passion for entrepreneurship so I thought I might start my own business one day. I starting interning here  and realized that I love managing people who are starting their own businesses to help them turn it into something real,” Izzard said.
Scarboro said he is working to recruit new ventures for the fall and also looking for business experts to mentor the young entrepreneurs.
“Hopefully we will be able to recruit mostly through word of mouth, through our interns, and our current ventures talking to people about it. We hope to generate a buzz on campus,” Scarboro said.
For more information on how to apply for the program, click here.
Big names and big personalities came together for the Friends of Downtown meeting at The Franklin Hotel early Thursday morning for coffee, cookies and cupcakes, as well as to hear Holden Thorp, UNC’s Chancellor, speak. Located in the Grand Terrace on the 2nd floor, sunshine filled the room with all the socializing Friends and made for a lively morning.
CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Police are investigating a series of assaults that occurred this past weekend on Franklin Street.
Just after 8:00 p.m. Friday, a man was reportedly assaulted in front of the Carolina Coffee Shop by one white male and three black males who were all wearing t-shirts.
Chapel Hill Police arrested one man and are still investigating the case. The police bulletin shows 45-year-old Darryn Maurice Dye was arrested at the address of the Carolina Coffee Shop Friday night.
Saturday morning, a woman was reportedly assaulted at around 1:30 a.m. when she was leaving the Pita Pit on Franklin Street. She told police she was shoved and knocked to the ground.
Twenty-four hours later, one white male and three black males reportedly assaulted a male victim near Gumby’s Pizza on West Franklin Street. In that case, the suspects were described as being in their late teens or early twenties.
There were no reports of weapons being used in any of the cases.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760; you can call Crime Stoppers at 919-942- 7515; you can also submit information online by clicking here.http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/multiple-assaults-on-franklin-street-over-the-weekend/
It took Pike Electric more than eight hours to replace the power pole that was struck Friday.
CHAPEL HILL – Franklin Street’s worst driving corner took three vehicles as victims in less than 36 hours this weekend shutting down the north east end of the road twice.
Chapel Hill Police Sgt. Josh Mecimore says Friday afternoon’s incident involved a single car that veered off the road and struck a power pole.
“Ann Heinz has been charged with two charges: driving while impaired (and) careless and reckless driving,” Sgt. Mecimore says. “The driving while impaired is a blood test, so we won’t have the actual alcohol level (results) back for some time.”
The vehicle was reportedly traveling southwest on Franklin approximately 50 miles per hour in the 35 mile-per-hour zone.
Once she’s charged, Heinz will lose her license for 30 days. She will then have to appear in court and could face up to another year of her license revoked if convicted. The reckless driving charge carries a penalty less than one year in jail, but Sgt. Mecimore says offenders don’t often get that harsh a punishment.
Heinz was transported to UNC Hospitals with minor injuries.
Thirty-three and a half hours later, a car traveling in the opposite direction had a similar problem, but this time with no alcohol as the cause.
“A car heading toward Durham crossed the center line in the curve there, into oncoming traffic, and then struck another vehicle head-on,” Sgt. Mecimore says. “So, I guess in this situation the difference was there was another vehicle there.”
In that accident, Ciarra Roberts was charged with failure to maintain lane control. That infraction is an offense which can be waived by just paying the fine.
Two of the four people from Roberts’ vehicle—not including Roberts herself—were transported to UNC Hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. The driver of the other car was the lone occupant and was also transported to the hospital with minor injuries.http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/northeast-end-of-franklin-street-takes-three-cars-over-the-weekend/
CHAPEL HILL – Investigations are ongoing, but alcohol and high speeds may have been the cause of Friday’s car wreck on East Franklin Street near Boundary Street. The incident resulted in a snapped telephone pole and the closure of the west end of Franklin Street for many hours.
The watch commander on duty Friday night could not confirm that an impaired driving, driving while intoxicated charge against Ann McCardle Heinz was in connection with the incident. However, the police bulletin reports the charge being cited at the intersection of Franklin and Boundary, where the incident took place.
Pike Electric crews were on the scene until just before 11:00 p.m. installing a new pole. Areas of Franklin near where the incident took place were closed until the installation was complete.
The driver of the vehicle was taken to UNC Hospitals with minor injuries.http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/alcohol-possible-factor-in-franklin-st-wreck/
CHAPEL HILL – A pedestrian was struck at the intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia Street, Sergeant Josh Mecimore of the Chapel Police Department confirms.
WCHL received reports of the incident around noon on Monday. It caused a portion of the road to be closed.
Mecimore says it was a low speed collision. The pedestrian was woman, and she was transported to UNC Hospitals with no major injuries. Mecimore says she was crossing against the light.
The roadway is open now.http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/pedestrian-struck-at-intersection-of-franklin-and-columbia/