EMS Denied 15 Minutes of Fame: Newspaper Coverage of Pre-Hospital Healthcare Related to Policy Change

EMS Denied 15 Minutes of Fame: Newspaper Coverage of Pre-Hospital Healthcare Related to Policy Change

Bradley Wilson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9944-1.ch002
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Local newspapers spend many square inches each week covering how long the fire department was on the scene of the most recent house fire or how many burglaries the police department had reported. Analysis of this public safety coverage indicated that, as in prior agenda-setting studies, it is correlated with policy change if only minimally yet continues to shed insight into a seldom-examined area of public health policy. Analysis of hundreds of news articles over a 10-year period in dozens of cities revealed that only about 1 percent of community newspaper coverage was devoted to pre-hospital healthcare — EMS. Subsequent qualitative investigation, which included interviews with EMS officials and newspaper reporters in cities identified with both high levels of coverage and low levels of coverage, found five potential reasons for the minimal coverage including that reporters simply were more interested in police/fire coverage and EMS simply was not on the radar screen of the citizens.
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That media coverage leads to public opinion and then to policy outcomes has been well-documented in a growing body of academic research. In 1993, Rogers, Dearing and Bregman found 223 publications that explicitly or implicitly concerned agenda setting. Of the publications they examined, 59 percent concerned mainly the relationship between the media and its corresponding public agenda. In 1996, Dearing and Rogers discussed the results of more than 350 publications on agenda setting. Eight years later, McCombs summarized more than 400 “empirical studies” of agenda setting. All of these studies expanded upon the basic idea that McCombs and Shaw, who wrote “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media” in 1972, developed and popularized — at least when it comes to national issues — the idea that by ignoring some problems and attending to others, the mass media profoundly affect which problems readers, viewers and listeners take seriously (Cohen, 1963; Funkhouser, 1973; Weaver, McCombs & Spellman, 1975; Page & Shapiro, 1992; McCombs & Valenzuela, 2014).

Despite all these studies, while national issues make headlines every day and are continually the focus of research, comparatively little research has been done about what impact local media can have on policy. Ithiel de Sola Pool (in Schramm, 1963, p. 136) argues that media outlets would be more effective if they covered local contests more often and more in-depth so they could mobilize the community’s sluggish but basically more persuasive oral communication system:

The press pays great attention to a presidential campaign. It gives thousands of columns of space to it. Yet the net effect of the press on the voter’s choice is small. It gives very little attention to contests for minor local offices. Yet its net effect on the voter’s choice for these is substantially greater. The press in the United States is much more influential in local than in national elections.

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