Media Content: Newspapers
Despite declining readership, newspapers remain a primary source of health information for adults in the United States. Particularly when compared with television news, newspapers are able to offer more in-depth coverage of health-related topics and are able to tackle more complex health topics. Newspaper readers also may be more strongly motivated by health information-seeking interests, which, in turn, is likely to heighten the value and impact of a newspaper's content.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has consistently found that newspapers provide more coverage of health than do other news media. Pew's 2013 State of the News Media report revealed that 5.6 percent of the newspaper stories were about health topics compared with 4.5 percent by media overall. A comprehensive examination of health news by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Pew Research Center in 2008 found a similar pattern. That study examined 48 news outlets in the United States between January 2007 and June 2008 in order to compare health coverage across broadcast and cable network TV news, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), newspapers, news and talk radio, and online news. Of the 105,605 news stories identified, 3,513 were about health. After network TV evening newscasts, in which 8 percent of the coverage was devoted to health news, newspapers devoted the second-most attention to health news (6 percent of their front-page space). This was twice as much as in network TV morning newscasts and PBS (3 percent each), and three times more than online news and talk radio (2 percent each).
Newspapers also distinguish themselves in terms of health topics covered. The 2008 Kaiser and Pew study found that the most frequently covered health topics were the causes, effects, or treatments associated with specific diseases or conditions, accounting for 42 percent of health news. Health policy and health care system issues, such as Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, health care costs, and information technology, were least covered (27 percent). In between were public health issues such as disease outbreaks, tainted Page 813 | Top of Articlefood products, and epidemics (31 percent). In contrast to the coverage foci of other media, newspapers devoted a plurality (41 percent) of its health coverage to health policy and the U.S. health care system, and the least amount of coverage to public health (21 percent). In between was coverage on specific diseases (38 percent). For newspapers, the most frequently covered disease was cancer (7 percent). This was significantly less than cancer coverage in most other media (e.g., network TV news, 17 percent; online news, 12 percent; media overall, 10 percent). In contrast, HIV/AIDS received more frequent coverage in newspapers (4 percent) than in most other media (e.g., less than 1 percent on cable news and radio combined; media overall, 2 percent).
Differences in health news coverage between newspapers and other media are likely the result of two key factors. First, newspaper readers tend to be more educated and considerably older than the population at large. Thus, health policy and health care system topics, including Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, and health care costs, may be more salient and relevant to newspaper readers. Second, compared to TV newscasts, newspapers can afford the space to tackle abstract and complex health policy and health care system issues.
Many other content analyses have focused on specific health topics (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS, obesity, substance use). As was the case with television news, there appears to be large divergence between the amount of coverage a health topic receives and the actual prevalence or importance of the health issue in the country.
Ongoing research is still needed to assess health coverage in newspapers in the rapidly changing media landscape. Such efforts may be working against the tide of research moving elsewhere. J. Manganello and N. Blake examined 441 published content analysis studies on health information in media (excluding the Internet) between 1985 and 2005, and they found that newspapers were the third-most frequently studied medium (29 percent). However, compared with findings in earlier studies by D. Riffe and A. Freitag, and by K. N. Kline, newspapers seem to have lost some researcher interest. Perhaps as a result, there is as yet no systematic and comprehensive examination of health content in print versus online newspapers. Beyond this, research on health coverage of newspapers needs to incorporate more representative samples of content. Most existing studies feature limited markets, short time frames, and only the front page of newspapers. The convergence of print and online news will demand greater rigor and more creative approaches to sampling. In addition, stretching beyond the United States would also be helpful, so that comparisons could be made with health coverage elsewhere (e.g., health coverage in Chinese newspapers by W. Peng and L. Tang, published in 2010). Finally, other research methods, including experiments and longitudinal surveys, should be coupled with content analyses to examine the effects of content and production features of health coverage on health information gains and information seeking.
Ohio State University
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