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A case of conflicting norms? Mobilizing and accountability information in newspaper coverage of the autism-vaccine controversy.

Authors
  • Clarke, Christopher E1
  • 1 Department of Communication at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA. [email protected]
Type
Published Article
Journal
Public understanding of science (Bristol, England)
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2011
Volume
20
Issue
5
Pages
609–626
Identifiers
PMID: 22164703
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

When reporting health risks, the news media are often criticized for omitting "mobilizing" information that allows readers to act on existing attitudes. Using American and British newspaper coverage of the autism-vaccine controversy as a case study, this article takes a "behind the scenes" look at normative pressures that may influence whether such information appears in coverage. In particular, can holding health officials accountable for their actions potentially "crowd out" mobilizing information? A content analysis suggests that mobilizing information (at least one of four examples) was present in only 16% of articles, compared to 38% that mentioned accountability messages (at least one of two examples). US newspapers were significantly more likely to mention at least one mobilization example. Finally, although only 11% discussed both, articles were more likely to discuss certain mobilizing and accountability examples together. Implications for journalism ethics and vaccine risk communication are discussed.

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