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Death Makes News: The Social Impact of Disease on Newspaper Coverage

Richard C. Adelman and Lois M. Verbrugge
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 41, No. 3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 347-367
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2676325
Page Count: 21
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Death Makes News: The Social Impact of Disease on Newspaper Coverage
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Abstract

This paper is an integrated analysis of newspaper coverage, epidemiological rates, and recent social history of six prominent diseases. Hypotheses: Newspaper coverage of a disease has three developmental stages (emergence, maturation, and decline & death). Trends in newspaper coverage of a disease reflect trends in its mortality, prevalence, and incidence. Magnitudes of newspaper coverage of diseases reflect their differential mortality rates. Data: Using the LEXIS[Trademark]-NEXIS[Trademark] news archive for major US. newspapers, we retrieve articles about cancer, heart disease, AIDS, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, and arthritis for the period 1977-1997. We also obtain mortality, prevalence, and incidence trends for the six diseases. Results: During the two decades, newspaper coverage emerges for AIDS and Alzheimer disease and is in the mature stage for the other diseases; declines begin for heart disease and AIDS. Trends in news coverage closely parallel mortality trends, and less consistently prevalence and incidence trends. Sharp downturns and upturns in mortality are mirrored in news volume. High-mortality diseases prompt both the most news coverage and the largest proportions of articles with death topics. Conclusion: Newspaper coverage of diseases is responsive to their mortality levels and trends.

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