Government failure or irresponsible residents? Framing Detroit’s water shutoffs before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mesmer, Kelsey
Frazier, Darryl
Burgess, Scott
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SAGE Publications Ltd
This content analysis of news stories about the Detroit water shutoffs sought to understand how the ongoing water crisis is framed in local Detroit newspapers—as a human rights issue, or in relation to the city’s financial burden. Using a deductive framing approach, we paid special attention to the frames used within stories and whether articles contained context related to the water shutoffs, specifically about health implications. We paid particular attention to how the focus on health implications changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Results showed that stories about the water shutoffs often included an economic consequences and responsibility frame which put the blame for the water shutoffs on the city’s government and simultaneously called for the city to step up and fix the problem. Very few news articles focused on the human element of the story, with only a small fraction of the stories including the voices of residents living with no water or focusing on the health implications for those without running water in their homes. These findings led us to make strategic recommendations for reporters covering the water shutoffs in Detroit and similar areas. © 2022 NOND of AEJMC.
This article is not available at CUD collection. The version of scholarly record of this conference paper is published in Newspaper Research Journal (2022), available online at:
COVID-19 , Detroit , framing , newspapers , water , water crisis
Mesmer, K., Frazier, D., & Burgess, S. (2022). Government failure or irresponsible residents? framing Detroit’s water shutoffs before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newspaper Research Journal, 43(1), 65-86.