Death on the menu: Comparative content analysis of image restoration strategies and frames during the Menu Foods recall

Open Access
Author:
Worawongs, Worapron Tina
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
October 02, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Amit Schejter, Dissertation Advisor
  • Amit Schejter, Committee Chair
  • Colleen Connolly Ahern, Committee Chair
  • Bu Zhong, Committee Member
  • Roxanne Louise Parrott, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • ethnic media
  • nationalism
  • globalization
  • news coverage
  • image restoration strategies
  • crisis
  • framing
  • comparative study
  • Content analysis
  • agenda-building
  • press releases
  • headlines
  • news sources
  • China
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Media Systems
  • geographical proximity
Abstract:
In 2007, Menu Foods Inc. issued a voluntary recall of more than 60 million cans and pouches of pet food, becoming the largest recall recorded in the United States. This unexpected recall would catapult an unknown company into the headlines of newspapers throughout the global community and soon spark a chain of recalls, specifically of products with the label ‘Made-in-China.’ This dissertation adopted a transnational framework and conducted an international comparative content analysis of press releases and news stories disseminated during the Menu Foods recall. Analysis of the press releases disseminated during the pet food recall revealed organizations predominantly adopted excuses and defense of innocence strategies to protect their images. When it came to how organizations presented the situation to media outlets, practitioners highlighted the issue of responsibility. Furthermore, the press releases used the conflict frame by criticizing other organizations, and drawing attention to the economic aspects of the recall. Comparison of the news sources in domestic, international and U.S. ethnic newspapers indicated experts and government officials dominated the coverage of the recall, ultimately leading to the disappearance of the corporate voices. Regarding the selection of frames by the various newspapers during the recall, the most frequently used frames were attribution of responsibility, conflict, and economic. The framing process suggest journalists shifted the focus from the actual events to the political issues that resulted from the distribution of tainted food products, specifically the issues surrounding U.S. and China relations and the effects of globalization. Based on the findings, it appears the country’s role in the crisis, geographical proximity, and the nature of the crisis may have influenced the selection of frames during the recall. Overall, the findings demonstrated a strong relationship between the way organizations framed the unfolding crisis and frames selected by domestic international and ethnic newspapers, specifically when it comes to the way the situation was being framed for the readers. However, the findings indicated organizations were not effective in getting journalists to adopt their image restoration strategies. This dissertation offers both theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, this dissertation provides evidence that the agenda-building process does not only apply to political campaign coverage but can be extended to corporate crisis situations, specifically the way the crisis is being presented. Additionally, this dissertation extends the research scope of the current literature on ethnic media by providing insights into the similarities and differences Chinese ethnic newspaper share with American and Chinese newspapers. The practical implications for public relations practitioners include taking into consideration the organization’s perceived involvement in the crisis in order to select appropriate image restoration strategies. Additionally, organizations may benefit from taking a closer look at the media coverage during a crisis, domestically and internationally. From the journalists’ perspective, the findings reaffirm that during a crisis situation, newspapers heavily rely on government officials and experts for information.