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The media and public risk

Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 2008. The media and public risk. [Project Report]. URN 09/14, Cardiff University. Available at:

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The pursuit of audiences, and the nature of journalistic practices and news values, lead to some clear patterns in how the media cover risk. Key factors are: Body counts and ‘whose body counts’ – the news media will tend to focus on risks which kill, injure, or threaten many people at one time, rather than have a cumulative effect over the years. Threats to ‘people like us’ gain more attention, as will attractive or famous victims or unattractive sources of threat; Human interest angles and ‘relevance’ – ideas about relevance are crucial both to the media’s decision to cover a story, and the nature of the responses from audiences. Journalists seek out the ‘human face’ of science and of risk. Emphasis on ‘the victim’s story’ can mean that personal accounts may allow a risk to enter the media in spite of official denials; and the absence of existing ‘victims’ may make a story less newsworthy; Location – a geographically bounded event will provide a more media friendly crisis than one without a ‘news centre’. Geographical or social distance between journalists and their assumed audience also impacts on coverage; Visuals – the media, especially television, are attracted by the ‘spectacular spectacle’. Such visuals also often have a very powerful impact on audiences; Evidence of ‘harm’ is usually more newsworthy than evidence of ‘benefits’ or lack of harm. Exceptions to this are when reports of ‘safety’ or ‘lack of danger’ go against received wisdom or when there are other reasons for a particular media outlet to oppose central government declarations of danger; The importance of events – news reporting tends to be ‘event’ orientated rather than issue orientated. This means, for example, that a ‘leak’ or ‘spill’ will make a story but background pollution/radiation does not; Official procedures – in the absence of a ‘disaster event’, the news media will often examine a ‘risk’ through official procedures such as permit application, regulatory decisions or an inquiry; The impact of conflict, ‘cover-ups’ and blame – in the absence of a clear disaster prompting risk coverage, then conflict and blame are often key criteria in media attention to risk; The spiral of concern – the media can create a self-perpetuating spiral of concern, with risk stories growing once they enter diverse parts of the news (e.g. a science story becoming a political story). One part of the media can help to keep the story on the agenda of other parts of the media. Policy and audience responses to the agenda set by the media can also help keep an issue in the headlines.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Publisher: Cardiff University
Funders: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2022 08:31

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