Delivering the Scary News: Newspaper Sourcing in a Bioterrorism Crisis

Kristen Alley Swain 1 *

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Abstract

This study examines patterns in news sourcing and play, in light of risk communication factors. A content analysis of 457 U.S. newspaper stories about the 2001 anthrax attacks revealed that more stories included outrage rhetoric than risk explanations. Stories containing uncertainty factors appeared more often during the impact phase than any other crisis phase. The more sources a story used, the less likely it was to include vague advice and explanations. The more play that a story received, the less likely it was to include explanations. Health agency and law enforcement officials dominated the coverage, while scientists, victims, and citizens were quoted least often. Stories quoting experts received higher play than stories quoting non-experts. A relatively large proportion of stories quoted unnamed sources, only one source, or non-experts, indicating a lack of access to authoritative interview sources, especially during the outbreak and impact phases of the crisis.

Keywords

crisis communication news sourcing framing risk perception terrorism reporting routines

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Article Type: Research Article

Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp. 29-56

Published Online: 24 Apr 2012

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