Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media

Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media

Even as the news media environment in this country changes rapidly, it continues to hold a critically important role in society: millions of Americans turn to various news media every day for information, and what they learn there makes a difference in which issues rise or fall on the national agenda, how the public perceives key issues, and how well they understand important policy debates. The purpose of this study is to take a broad look at how the news media covered one vital area—health and health policy—in 2007 and 2008. While there have been many studies that have taken a narrow look at news coverage of specific health issues (breast cancer, diabetes) or at coverage in one particular news medium (local television, print) this report takes a wider look at the broad spectrum of health issues, across a wide range of news media.

The report addresses the following questions:

  • To what extent has health news been a part of the national news agenda?
  • Which health topics get the most coverage?
  • How does coverage vary from print to television, radio to online?
  • And how big of an issue was health in coverage of the 2008 Presidential primary campaign?

The findings are based on an analysis of coverage of health in 48 different news outlets sampled as part of the ongoing News Coverage Index produced by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This report covers an 18-month time period, from January 2007 though June2008. The study includes small, medium and large market newspapers, network TV morning and evening news programs, cable television news, news and talk radio, and online news. A total of 3,513 health stories were analyzed for this report. Two limitations of the sample are that it does not include local television news, and that its newspaper data includes frontpage stories only. At the same time, a major advantage of this study is that it analyzed news coverage every weekday (plus the Sunday newspapers) for a year and a half, rather than relying on a sample from a more limited time frame (e.g., one week's worth of content).

Read the full report Health News Coverage in the U.S. Media on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.