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Wide-Ranging Study of National News Reveals Health News Comprises Less Than Four Percent of All Coverage
Date:11/23/2008

Eighteen-Month Study Shows Network Evening News and Newspapers Devote More Coverage to Health than Online News, Talk Radio and Cable Television News

Health Was the Focus of Less than One Percent Of Campaign-Related Stories during Primary Season

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the news media industry experiences a period of upheaval and transformation, a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that news about health and health care made up less than four percent (3.6%) of all news content from January 2007 through June 2008, well behind coverage of foreign affairs and crime, and just behind stories about disasters and accidents.

The study, Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media, also examines the type of health coverage in the news, and finds that the largest proportion (42%) of the stories were about specific diseases or conditions, with cancer receiving the most attention (10% of all health coverage). Thirty-one percent of health news focused on public health issues, including potential epidemics and contamination of food and drugs. The smallest category of stories focused on health policy or the health care system (27%) of all health news, or less than one percent (.9%) of all news content. This category includes stories on topics such as Medicare and Medicaid, the uninsured, health care costs, and proposals for reform of the health care system.

"At a time when health care ranks near the top of the public's list of concerns, there is relatively little coverage of health and health policy in the news media," said Kaiser's Senior Vice President for Media and Public Education Matt James.

"And while journalists know that Americans are keenly worried about their health care, in practice that usually translates into reporting on specific diseases and conditions rather than examining health policy issues such as why health care costs so much or what to do about it," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Recent trends indicate that people's television viewing is migrating from network to cable programming and from reading news in print publications to more online content. The newly released study indicates that health content ranges from a high of 8.3 percent of network evening news coverage to a low of 1.4 percent of cable news coverage, and from 5.9 percent of newspaper content to 2.2 percent of online news content. Newspapers were the most likely to address health policy issues (41% of all health coverage, compared to 26% of cable's health news and 18% of online health news).

"As the public's news consumption shifts more toward online and cable outlets, people are likely to come across fewer stories about health, and particularly about health policy," said Kaiser's Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of The Program for the Study of Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study encompassed a significant portion of the 2008 primary campaign season, allowing for an analysis of the prevalence of health in campaign-related stories. Several candidates were running for president in hotly contested races for both the Democratic and Republican nominations, but for the period from January 2007 through June 2008, health-focused stories made up less than one percent (0.6%) of campaign news coverage. More generally, coverage of health news dropped as the primary season started in December 2007. From January 2007 to November 2007, health accounted for 4.1 percent of news coverage, but only accounted for 2.8 percent of coverage from December to June 2008.

The report can be viewed at http://www.kff.org/entmedia/7839.cfm.

Methodology:

Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media was jointly conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). The research was based on coding conducted as part of PEJ's ongoing News Coverage Index. It includes all health stories from the NCI for the 18-month period from January 2007-June 2008. A total of 3,513 health stories were analyzed for the report. For the NCI, stories on 48 different news outlets are captured and coded, including: the front pages of a rotating group of seven small, medium and large-market newspapers every weekday and Sunday; the entirety of the weekday national evening network newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and a half-hour from PBS; the first 30 minutes of every weekday morning broadcast of Good Morning America, Today, and the Early Show; a rotating schedule of five hours of cable news programming every weekday, from CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC; more than two hours a day of a rotating selection of news and talk radio; and the top stories from each of five online news sites such as CNN.com and Yahoo News. A more detailed methodology including specific outlets can be found in the report, Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media. The complete methodology of Pews' NCI is available at http://journalism.org/about_news_index/methodology.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, California, dedicated to producing and communicating the best possible information, research and analysis on health issues.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism is an initiative of the PewResearchCenter in WashingtonD.C. and is dedicated to studying the performance of the press, specializing in part in content analysis. The Project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.


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SOURCE Henry J. Kaiser Foundation
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