A Case of Conflicting Norms? Mobilizing and Accountability Information in Newspaper Coverage of the Autism-Vaccine Controversy
Clarke, Christopher E
Public understanding of science (Bristol, England) 2011 Sep; 20(5): 609-26
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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