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Health News and Responsibility

How Frames Create Blame


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 Eight: Thematic and Episodic Frames in Depression News: Findings from Two Studies


chapter eight

Thematic and Episodic Frames in Depression News: Findings from Two Studies

The integrated process model of framing unites different actors within the news communication loop—journalists, sources, and audiences. We envision our response to health issues as a public health approach, and further believe the news media is an important actor in helping the public understand public health. So, understanding these communicative roles are important. News is powerful—it can help the public see, understand, and decide to support or reject policy. Because we are examining health within that public health sphere, public policy becomes integral to the process of a public response to health conditions.

Although there is evidence thematic frames allow audiences to attribute responsibility to society, which can help increase support for societal public policy measures, there is so much to still learn about the process. Iyengar (1991) recognized the complexity inherent in tracing attribution of responsibility for causes and solutions of different issues, and so must we. We proposed organizing and evaluating existing research on health news using thematic and episodic frames by situating it in deVreese’s (2005) integrated process model of framing—news frame-building and news frame-setting. This model contextualizes the communication process by clearly demarcating frame-building (the construction of news stories and then the content itself) and frame-setting (the effects or impacts of the content). Using this integrated model allows us to organize and evaluate health news studies in order to see the strengths and gaps...

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