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The rise and fall of risk reporting - Media coverage of human genetics research, 'False Memory Syndrome' and 'Mad Cow Disease'

Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: and Reilly, J. 1997. The rise and fall of risk reporting - Media coverage of human genetics research, 'False Memory Syndrome' and 'Mad Cow Disease'. European Journal of Communication 12 (3) , pp. 319-350. 10.1177/0267323197012003002

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Which risks attract mass media attention? When and why do particular threats become headline news? Using three diverse case studies, this article charts the rise and fall of risk crises and draws on interviews with journalists and their sources to identify the key factors affecting these processes. We demonstrate how source competition, journalists' training, `newsworthiness', news momentum and the organization of news beats and media outlets encourage certain risks to be highlighted at particular times, but encourage other risk debates to be entirely overlooked. We argue that standard accounts of news production processes fail adequately to account for the media profile of `risk' unless they are integrated with an understanding of `cultural givens', changes over time, occasional suspensions of `normal' journalistic practice and consideration of the particular conditions which come into play on `risk reporting'. Similarly, our research suggests that theoretical accounts of `risk society' often oversimplify the media's role. Far from being eager reporters of risk, the press and TV news are ill adapted for sustaining high level coverage of long-term threats. Media interest is rarely maintained in the face of ongoing uncertainty and official silence or inaction. In spite of this, the media can serve as one avenue for public information and political/policy leverage for those who believe that risk assessment is `too important to leave to the experts'. However, the media cannot be assumed to be automatic allies in the `democratization of risk', and the success of some unofficial sources in attracting media attention should not be celebrated uncritically.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Uncontrolled Keywords: food; health; news production; risk society; sexual abuse
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0267-3231
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 08:55

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