Risk and the Media: A Comparison of Print and Televised News Stories of a Canadian Drinking Water Risk Event

Authors

  • S. Michelle Driedger

    Corresponding author
      *Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, S113-750 Bannatyne Ave, Winnipeg, MB, R3E 0W2, Canada; Michelle_Driedger@UManitoba.CA.
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*Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, S113-750 Bannatyne Ave, Winnipeg, MB, R3E 0W2, Canada; Michelle_Driedger@UManitoba.CA.

Abstract

This article explores the utility of using media analyses as a method for risk researchers to gain an initial understanding of how the public may perceive a risk issue or event based on how it is presented and communicated in news media stories. In the area of risk research, newspapers consistently provide coverage of both acute and chronic risk events, whereas televised news broadcasts report primarily acute risk events. There is no consensus in the literature about which news format (print vs. televised) may be better to study public conceptualizations of risk, or if one format (e.g., print) may be used as a surrogate measure for another format (e.g., televised). This study compares Canadian national televised and newspaper coverage of the same risk event: the E. coli contamination of a public drinking water supply. Using a content analysis, this study empirically demonstrates the overall similarity in story content coverage in both televised and print coverage, noting that televised coverage promotes primarily emotional story themes while print coverage tends to also include coverage of analysis and process. On this basis, the research draws two conclusions: 1) given its more comprehensive coverage, newspaper broadsheets may provide a better measure of media coverage of a risk event than televised coverage (if only one format can be studied); and 2) when the risk area of interest is chronic, and/or if the scale of analysis is at a community/local level (i.e., when it is unlikely that archived televised coverage is available), then a researcher may find the print media to be a more useful format to study.

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