First Advisor

Lee Shaker

Date of Publication

Spring 7-25-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Communication






Homelessness -- Press coverage -- Oregon -- Portland -- History, Homelessness -- Press coverage -- California -- San Diego -- History, Content analysis (Communication)



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 68 pages)


The paths to homelessness are complex and attributable to a combination of structural issues associated with poverty that can magnify personal vulnerabilities. However, as homelessness became more prominent in news media during the 1980s, media discourse increasingly focused on personal characteristics within the homeless population which cast people as personally responsible for their plight. Simultaneously, media explanations for homelessness that called attention to structural conditions that contribute to homelessness decreased during the decade. Scholars explain this shift by situating it within the social and political climate of the time.

This study extends the line of research on homelessness in news media in order to understand how coverage of homelessness has changed between the 1980s and the 2010s. A quantitative content analysis examines newspaper articles in two cities in the western United States -- Portland, Oregon, and San Diego, California -- where homelessness is a prominent and enduring social and political issue. News articles are examined for changes between two time periods (1988-1990 and 2014-2016) in mentions of personal and structural factors as well as changes in the discussion of solutions for homelessness. Results show an increase over time in portrayals of structural factors that contribute to homelessness as well as an increase in talk about permanent housing solutions. However, mentions of personal problems and behaviors, such as mental illness and substance abuse, have also increased. This suggests that, while news discourse may be moving toward more nuanced portrayals that acknowledge societal factors, news media still tend to focus on characteristics of homelessness that can cast people as personally culpable.


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Persistent Identifier

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Communication Commons