The role of the news media in promoting a public discourse of fear is examined. A conceptual model is offered that is based on recent developments in communication formats and frames. The emphasis is on the impact of media forms and frames for guiding the selection and presentation of reports emphasizing fear (e.g., crime, drugs, violence). A “problem frame’ compatible with format and entertainment needs is used by the news media as a secular version of a morality play. This promotes messages that resonate fear. The role of the problem frame is described as part of the process for promoting widespread messages stressing fear and danger. Materials from a qualitative content analysis approach, “tracking discourse,’ of selected news media illustrate how the focus and content of “fear’ shifts over a period of time. Conceptual and methodological implications of this approach are discussed.

The sociological imagination…consists of the capacity to shift from one perspective to another, and in the process to build up an adequate view of a total society and its components.

C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination.