Mass Media and Drug Prevention: Classic and Contemporary Theories and Research

By Austin, Erica Weintraub | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Mass Media and Drug Prevention: Classic and Contemporary Theories and Research


Austin, Erica Weintraub, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Mass Media and Drug Prevention: Classic and Contemporary Theories and Research. William D. Crano and Michael Burgoon, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.312 pp. $29.95 pbk.

This edited volume grew out of the planning for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONE)CP) five-year National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, launched in 1998 and funded with approximately $1 billion. The book is especially interesting when read against the backdrop of controversy over the campaign's apparent ineffectiveness, management style, and choices of strategy. As William Crano writes in the introduction, "to use public monies on ill-informed communication tactics seems an intolerable waste, a betrayal of the public's trust."

The book's three sections first provide background important for understanding the role of the mass media in health campaigns, then explain and advocate several specific theoretical approaches, and finally offer conclusions and recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of mass-mediated prevention campaigns. Perhaps because of its focus on drug prevention, it unfortunately excludes a great deal of other relevant health campaign research. Nevertheless, scholars and practitioners pursuing any type of health campaign should welcome this opportunity to pick the brains of the highly regarded researchers who collaborated on this effort.

The most broadly useful sections open and close the book, reviewing large areas of research and offering well-founded conclusions and recommendations. The book begins with an overview of the evolution of communication research by Ellen Wartella and Patricia Stout, which provides a useful grounding on which the other authors build. They conclude that this history teaches the importance of targeting a message, acknowledging environmental influences, and using multiple channels to communicate.

Charles Atkin then presents a set of key issues for campaign planners to consider, advocating "strategic ambiguity" in messages to take advantage of receivers' interpretation processes instead of treating individual differences as an inconvenience. Atkin emphasizes the importance of "disciplined formulation of strategies" based on research and realism. Atkin also cautions that "audience receptivity is often a more central determinant of campaign effectiveness than the potency of the campaign stimuli."

The second section of the book is more uneven, providing a combination of generalized recommendations emerging from the literature and case studies designed to illustrate the value of particular theoretical approaches. These chapters tend to be more narrow in focus and less well integrated with points made in other chapters. They still have much to offer, such as a set of principles for the quickly evolving area of interactive media. One especially interesting principle, consistent with Atkin, Wartella, and Stout's recommendations, is to develop strategies that fulfill audiences' desire for autonomy and self expression instead of relying on coercion and lectures. …

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