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Health News and Responsibility

How Frames Create Blame

Series:

Lesa Hatley Major and Stacie Meihaus Jankowski

Who the public blames for health problems determines who the public believes is responsible for solving those health problems. Health policies targeting the broader public are the most effective way to improve health. The research approach described in this book will increase public support for critical health policies. The authors systematically organized and analyzed 25 years of thematic and episodic framing research in health news to create an approach to reframe responsibility in health news in order to gain public support for health policies. They apply their method to two of the top health issues in world—obesity and mental health—and conclude by discussing future research and plans for working with other health scholars, health practitioners, and journalists.

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Chapter One: Introduction: This Is a Health Communication Book?

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chapter one

Introduction: This Is a Health Communication Book?

Geoffrey Rose advised epidemiologists that “(s)ociety is not merely a collection of individuals but also a collectivity, and the behavior and health of its members are profoundly influenced by its collective characteristics and social norms” (2, p. 62).

Hundreds of health news stories are read and viewed daily across the globe. While individuals may turn to multiple outlets for health information, news remains one of the most important providers of health knowledge. All health news stories use some combination of episodic and thematic framing. Reporters tell stories about an individual’s health problem or provide details about a single event involving health (episodic coverage) and/or discuss a health problem more broadly offering context by focusing on prevalence, societal causes, and treatments including health policy (thematic coverage). These are the frames journalists use in the real world. Understanding how journalists construct these frames, and how these frames influence audience members, is critical for anyone involved in health communication, including health reporters.

Shanto Iyengar introduced thematic and episodic news frames in his 1991 book, Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues. These news frames provide the audience with critical information about the causes of problems and who or what is responsible for solving problems. This attribution of responsibility influences how individuals think about social problems including health—who or what is causing the problem and who or what is responsible for solving it. ←1...

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