Media Framing of Fatal Bicycle Crashes in Hillsborough County: A Critical Discourse Analysis
2018 2 INTRODUCTION TAMPA -A man wearing dark clothing and riding a bicycle was killed when he was hit by a car early Sunday on Hillsborough Avenue. The accident happened about 5 a.m. at the intersection with Lois Avenue. Jerome Thomas, 44, was riding a bike north, across Hillsborough Avenue, about 300 feet west of the intersection, when he was hit by a car in the eastbound lanes, according to Tampa police. Thomas died at the scene. The car's driver, Lorenzo Rodriguez, 57, was not issued any
... ffic citations, police said (Tampa Bay Times, 2014). The language in the above report from the Tampa Bay Times is typical of traffic crash reports. Though this might seem a straightforward presentation of the "facts" of the event, discourse analysis reveals a multitude of language choices, conscious and unconscious, that reflect and potentially influence local understandings of fatal crashes involving bicyclists. For instance, the first sentence in the report demonstrates an active structure: transitive verbs (wearing, riding, killed), a human subject (a man), and an object (he) which undergoes change through the process described by the verbs (killed when he was hit by a car). Word and sentence constructions such as these are choices, and there are many different choices a reporter or writing may employ; examining those choices, then, could provide insight into local culture and inform future reporting, shifting the way social actors approach the problem of bicyclist deaths. In the first sentence of the report, the man who was killed by a motorist is an actor or agent and is both the subject and the object in the sentence. He is in control of choices that have caused the process of being hit and killed by a car to unfold. The motorist is omitted from the sentence and replaced with a passive, inanimate object (hit by a car), and the bicyclist's relationships to others and his environment are omitted as well, while his responsibility as an individual is not. The language choices of the authors frame the man on the bicycle as separate 3 from (rather than related to) the motorist, the police, the engineers, the planners of local infrastructure, the newspaper readership, or the newspaper itself. The purpose of this project is to examine the linguistic choices (e.g., vocabulary, grammar, structure) that frame the relationships between bicyclists and other parties involved in fatal crash events, while attending to identity constructions of social actors and interrogating sociocultural contexts (i.e., policy and economy). Through critical discourse analysis (CDA), a rigorous qualitative method that is used to analyze both oral and written communication, researchers identify how linguistic choices form patterns that (re)occur and (re)produce systems of meaning that shape urban landscapes and the social identities of bicyclists and motorists. CDA reveals the "common sense" or "taken-for-granted" lexicon of transportation by examining the nuances of language. Discourse analysts identify language as a site of ideological struggle, putting emphasis on creative outcomes and the prospect of social change. This interdisciplinary study is a unique contribution to transportation literature as it employs a methodology that is typically reserved for communication scholars and linguists. In this study, textual data were collected via media reports of bicyclist traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County, Florida. The Tampa Bay Area has a disproportionately high number of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in comparison to other areas of the United States, making it an appropriate and necessary site of transportation inquiry. were 94 bicyclist fatalities in Hillsborough County. The fatalities reported in Hillsborough County within this ten-year timespan were compiled for coding and analysis, and the bicyclists and drivers identified by names, dates, and locations of crashes. The news reports were coded with software designed for qualitative research, which helped the researchers locate and record repeated textual features in a large quantity of data. Data were then analyzed using Norman 4 Fairclough's procedure for critical discourse analysis (1989; 2003) to enhance understandings of transportation culture in Hillsborough County. The objectives of the research are to 1.) illustrate the nuances of language that shape (and are shaped by) institutional contexts to maintain social order; 2.) evaluate the social effects of a "common sense" or "taken-for-granted" lexicon of transportation; and 3.) develop strategies for participating in transit-related language practices with the aim of altering public perceptions of bicycle fatalities.