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J Community Health. 2010 Oct;35(5):487-94. doi: 10.1007/s10900-009-9217-x.

Challenges in covering health disparities in local news media: an exploratory analysis assessing views of journalists.

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  • 1Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. slw49@georgetown.edu

Abstract

News coverage of health topics influences knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors at the individual level, and agendas and actions at the institutional and policy levels. Because disparities in health often are the result of social inequalities that require community-level or policy-level solutions, news stories employing a health disparities news frame may contribute to agenda-setting among opinion leaders and policymakers and lead to policy efforts aimed at reducing health disparities. This study objective was to conduct an exploratory analysis to qualitatively describe barriers that health journalists face when covering health disparities in local media. Between June and October 2007, 18 journalists from television, print, and radio in Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester, Massachusetts, were recruited using a purposive sampling technique. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted by telephone, and the crystallization/immersion method was used to conduct a qualitative analysis of interview transcripts. Our results revealed that journalists said that they consider several angles when developing health stories, including public impact and personal behavior change. Challenges to employing a health disparities frame included inability to translate how research findings may impact different socioeconomic groups, and difficulty understanding how findings may translate across racial/ethnic groups. Several journalists reported that disparities-focused stories are "less palatable" for some audiences. This exploratory study offers insights into the challenges that local news media face in using health disparities news frames in their routine coverage of health news. Public health practitioners may use these findings to inform communication efforts with local media in order to advance the public dialogue about health disparities.

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