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Covering AIDS

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Covering AIDS

Article excerpt

Study shows that AIDS coverage over the past 10 years has been broad-based, emphasized protection and prevention and did not become politicized

NEWS coverage of AIDS has remained fairly consistent over the past 10 years, although there has been a marked shift toward focusing on celebrities, according to a new report.

Further, media sources remain a major source of information about AIDS for American adults, nearly three quarters of whom believe the media are telling the truth about AIDS.

"In general, results of content analysis are usually critical, but that is certainly not the case here," commented Andrew Kohut, director of Princeton Survey Research Associates, which conducted the analysis sponsored by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kohut also is director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in Washington, D.C.

AIDS coverage over the past 10 years, Kohut said, has been broad-based, consistent, emphasized protection and prevention and did not become politicized.

"As a consequence, public awareness and knowledge grew," he said, during a media briefing in Washington, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Press Foundation.

The only "relatively small problems" were that the coverage was overwhelmingly domestic -- only 4% was internationally focused -- and became more celebrity oriented over time, Kohut noted.

Further, as AIDS news became more celebrity driven, it moved off the main news pages and into the style and sports sections, making it an issue for more non-science reporters.

Dr. June Osborn, professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and professor of pediatrics and communicable disease at the University of Michigan Medical School, who has been active in numerous world and U.S. AIDS commissions, sees a missed opportunity in the move toward celebrity coverage.

"The celebrity facet serves as a convenient way of avoiding the issue that's involved," she said.

"I don't see the story that we're dealing with something that is huge and is not going away. The celebrity issue allows us to duck that," Osborn commented.

Dr. Mark Smith, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and a member of the clinical faculty at the University of California at San Francisco, who also currently and formerly served on a number of AIDS committees, noted that coverage of celebrities can increase public awareness.

"The coverage of celebrities has its hazards and its dangers," Smith noted. "Celebrities, by definition, are not like the rest of us, but people tend to say that it makes them more aware. …

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