The way in which news coverage of a crisis is framed affects the public’s emotional response toward the company involved, according to a study conducted by University of Missouri researchers.

Glen Cameron, the Maxine Wilson Gregory Chair in Journalism Research and professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Hyo Kim of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore studied the reactions of news readers when exposed to a story about a crisis.

One group read an “anger-frame” story that blamed the organization for the crisis. Another group read a “sadness-frame” story that focused on the victims and how they were hurt by the crisis. They found that those who read the “anger-frame” story read the news less closely and had more negative attitudes toward the company than those exposed to the “sadness-frame” story.

“The distinct emotions induced by different news frames influenced individuals’ information processing and how they evaluated the corporation,” Cameron says.

Cameron and Kim also found that a corporate response that focuses on the relief and wellbeing of the victims tends to improve the public’s perceptions of the corporation as compared to the message focusing on the law, justice, and punishment. This was the case regardless of how the initial news was framed (i.e., anger vs. sadness).

Cameron says these findings illustrate the importance of controlling the message during a crisis. “It is important for corporations to put on a human face during crises. If a corporation can focus on the wellbeing of the victims and how the corporation will improve following the crisis, they have a better chance of influencing ‘sadness-frame’ news coverage as opposed to ‘anger-frame’ coverage.

“If the news coverage remains ‘sadness-framed,’ public perception will stay more positive.

“Crises are going to happen,” Cameron adds. “Unfortunately, planes will crash and there will be oil spills. This study helps to show how the public will react to different types of news coverage of crises, and subsequently, what the best ways are for corporations to handle any crises they may encounter.”