The Cincinnati Zoo Crisis: A Qualitative Content Analysis on U.S. Media Organizations’ Framing of the Incident
Saunders-Grewe, Candace R.
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On May 28, 2016, a child fell into the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo, where he encountered a seventeen-year-old 450-lb gorilla named Harambe. When Harambe failed to exit the enclosure, the Cincinnati Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team shot and killed the gorilla to prevent further interaction between him and the child. As a result, the public responded with outcry and condemnation, which continued for months after the incident’s occurrence. Through a conventional qualitative content analysis, this thesis analyzes how national U.S. media organizations’ online articles framed the incident and how those frames propelled the controversy among the public. More specifically, this thesis identifies the sentiments and frames used to portray the gorilla and his actions, the child and his actions, and the options of whether to tranquilize or kill the gorilla. One of the most significant findings of this study reveals that the media’s frames exposed several contradictory messages sent by the Cincinnati Zoo to the public, which most likely fed the on-going controversy. From a theoretical perspective, this illustrates how media frames can influence the public’s opinion on a given case, while from a practical standpoint, such findings allowed for the development of recommendations on how to prevent such controversies. More specifically, this thesis recommends that communication practitioners assert the organization’s mission statement in messages, ensure that messages align with the mission statement, clarify desirability of the organization’s action over other possibilities, and address all aspects of the situation. Overall, this thesis provides one instance of how the media can use framing to influence the public agenda.