Health Journalists’ Perceptions of Their Communities and Implications for the Delivery of Health Information in the News
Journalists have a unique opportunity to educate the community about public health and health care. In order for health communication messages to be effective, characteristics of the intended audience must be considered. Limited attention has been given to health journalists’ perceptions of their target communities and little is known about how journalists’ perceptions may impact the delivery of health information in the news. Fifteen in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with health journalists from varying geographic regions and media market sizes. Interview questions examined health journalists’ perceptions of their target communities, the content and delivery of their health-related stories, and the current state of health journalism. Interviews were audio-recorded for transcription and thematic analysis. Health journalists perceived their audiences to be primarily mothers and adults with limited education. Participants reported they often used personal stories and strong headlines to engage their communities. They also stated that their news stories were quite technical and may not have been written at an appropriate reading level for their audience. When asked about the current state of health journalism, participants reported that there were areas for improvement. Journalists stated that increased collaborations with public health practitioners would improve their own understanding of health and medical information and allow them to develop health news content that was more appropriate for their target communities.
KeywordsCommunity health Health journalism Health communication Mass media Qualitative Interviews Literacy
We thank Sara Lamberson and Lauren Decker Todd, graduates of the Master in Mass Communication program at the University of South Carolina, for their assistance with data collection and coding.
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