"Defective childhoods": television news and the social construction of the 'child in need'
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The modern media, particularly television news, produces and airs news reports and special programs presenting social justice and human rights stories. Some of these news reports feature children with identified emotional, financial, or other needs. Due to television news' pervasiveness and influence in American society, the media entities which create the news have significant power to shape Americans' understandings and beliefs on children's lives, rights, and needs. In this thesis, I ask: how does the media, through television news programs, maintain a specific discursive construction of 'children in need.' I have conducted a qualitative content analysis based on transcripts from the national television programs NBC Dateline, ABC Nightline, ABC 20/20, and CBS 60 Minutes between 2007 and 2012, looking at episodes featuring groups of children in some identified need. I examine the ways in which these television programs present certain childhoods as problematic. My findings indicate that the news' collective construction of 'children in need' portrays them as hidden from the rest of America, as courageous dreamers, and as living abnormal lives. Furthermore, I compare and contrast the news programs' representation to the Progressive era child-saving movement, revealing that the modern media's broadcasts on 'children in need' disfavor lower class populations. Ultimately, I argue that the news media serves the function of deeming certain childhoods as less than ideal, or 'defective,' which therefore marks them as deviant from what is considered a universal proper childhood.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Literature review -- Methods -- Findings -- Discussion -- Conclusion -- Appendix