Assessing Newspaper Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies

By Lowrey, Wilson; Gower, Karla et al. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Assessing Newspaper Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies


Lowrey, Wilson, Gower, Karla, Evans, William, Mackay, Jenn, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


This study examines newspapers' preparedness for public health emergencies and seeks to explain why some newspapers are better prepared than others. Findings from a regional survey of newspaper managers showed that few newspapers have crisis plans, and few have sufficiently trained or specialized staff for public health coverage. A model predicting level of preparedness received mixed support. As expected, organizational preparedness and professional orientation had significant effects on level of staff preparedness, but environmental factors such as level of toxins in the community and the degree of pluralism in the community's power structure failed to predict.

Journalists are critical players in communicating information about health risk to the public. In the event of a public health emergency, there is an unusually high need for information, and the mass media are generally best able to meet this need.1 Most adults in the United States, for example, first learned of the September 11, 2001, attacks via the mass media.2 The anthrax outbreak in fall 2001, the emergence of SARS in 2003, and health risks from Hurricane Katrina were all covered prominently in news outlets around the world.3 However, news reports of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases have been faulted for inaccurate, incomplete, and sensational coverage that may contribute to public misunderstanding of risks,4 public panic, and even loss of life.5

Research suggests media organizations are unprepared to cover these kinds of events in part because their journalists lack sufficient expertise in science and medicine.6 In the last few years, newsroom budgets for training have been slashed, and with resources stretched thin, time off for training is a luxury few newsrooms can afford.7

Media organizations have also done little planning for community health crises. In a 2004 survey, the Media security and Reliability Council found that 15% of radio and 47% of television outlets had disaster recovery plans in place, and a much smaller percentage had rehearsed plans.8 No one appears to have examined newspapers' preparedness. This study examines the level of preparedness of newspapers for public health emergencies and seeks to explain why some newspapers are better prepared than others. A model predicting preparedness is assessed. The model follows the logic of hierarchical models of influences on media decision making,9 as well as the community power structure framework, which suggests decisions by news organizations reflect the nature of power relationships in their communities.

Literature Review

The mass media are highly relied upon during community crises because top community decision makers are likely to target mass media with their messages, and because media organizations have substantial resources for gathering and disseminating information quickly and widely.10 Audiences rely most heavily on television during community crises,11 but as perceived threat increases, dependency on newspapers increases as well.12 Need for deeper understanding about social consequences of a community problem drives individuals to newspapers,13 and the greater the dependency on newspapers, the greater the change in attitude and behavior.14

The way power is structured in a community is a key determinant of how aggressive the media are in exposing community problems and searching for solutions. In small, homogeneous communities, newspapers are typically part of the tightly knit power structure, which they tend to support. In large, complex communities, in which there are many powers with conflicting views, newspaper content reflects disparate perspectives.15 Research has shown that news organizations in small, less pluralistic communities are less likely to cover public health risks indepth, while newspapers in large pluralistic communities are more likely to produce investigative stories that challenge local institutions about health risks. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Assessing Newspaper Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.