AIds Research Essay

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This study used content analysis to identify dominant AIDS-HIV themes in the manifest news content of AP, Reuters, AFP, ITAR-TASS, and IPS. A systematic random sample of AIDS-HIV stories disseminated by the five wire services between May 1991 and May 1997 (both months included) was obtained. This decade was selected because several empirical studies of coverage in the 1980s have been conducted; however, few studies examine the 1990s.

The decision to examine the print news media was driven by the nature of the issue being explored. Previous research indicated (Nelkin, 1991; Stroman & Seltzer, 1989) that when it comes to complex and ambiguous issues (e.g., AIDS-HIV), print news provides more in-depth information than broadcast news. News consumers tend to consult print news for the details, whereas broadcast news provides the broad strokes. For instance, the Princeton Survey Research Associates (1996) study of AIDS coverage by the U.S. media found that the print media accorded more analytical coverage when compared to broadcast offerings.

Full texts of all the stories in the sample were downloaded from the online LEXIS-NEXIS news and information database service.(n7) With a random starting point, every fifth story in the universe was selected to obtain a 20% sample. The story was the unit of analysis.

The sample comprised a total of 635 stories. Following is the breakdown of these stories according to wire services: Reuters = 287, AFP = 155, AP = 78, ITAR-TASS = 34, and IPS = 81 (N = 635).

Detailed coding categories were developed. The Princeton Survey Research Associates (1996) content analysis of AIDS-HIV coverage by the U.S. news media guided the formation of some of the categories. The world region category was guided by the Mayo and Pasadeos (1991) study of the international focus of U.S. business magazines. Following are the main categories that were used to code each story. Detailed operational definitions were developed for each category. Straightforward categories such as date, length of story, wire, and so forth are not included:

1. Dateline-world region: The choices available were: North America (United States and Canada), Central America and the Caribbean, Latin America, Western Europe (including Turkey and Greece), Eastern Europe, Russia and former Soviet republics, China, the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa (including South Africa), developing Asia (mostly South and some Southeast Asia), developed Asia (mostly East and Southeast Asia), Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific Islands), global, the United Nations and other similar global organizations, and other/none.

2. Dateline -developed or lesser-developed country.

3. Main world region represented in story.

4. Main theme of story: The following themes were available as choices: AIDS portrayed as deviant, medical-scientific, socioeconomic-political-cultural-religious, policy-legal, AIDS as a developing-country problem, global cooperation-interdependence-assistance, celebrity AIDS, prevention-education, routine, human rights-ethics, and other.

5. Principal news maker (actors and sources): The choices available were: scientists-researchers (medical and others, e.g., behavioral)-medical, policy players (politicians, administrators, judiciary, professional, and international), corporate (e.g., pharmaceutical, insurance, etc., and other such companies), people living with AIDS and their friends and families, activists or other similar groups and social organizations, celebrities or public figures, alternative medicine spokespersons, and other-none.

The first three choices represent official news makers, whereas the rest represent unofficial news makers.

An intercoder reliability test yielded satisfactory levels of agreement.(n8) The data generated was analyzed through computations of frequency distributions, cross tabulations, rank correlations, and linkage analyses. The level of significance selected was .05.

Specific populations disproportionately affected by the U.S. epidemic

were the focus of only a small amount of coverage. After the very early

years of the epidemic, media coverage of HIV/AIDS was never dominated by

stories about gay men, who were the focus of 4% of stories overall.

While gay men represented 100% of the affected population as portrayed

by the news media in 1981, that share quickly declined to 38% in

1982,22% in 1984, and 5% in 1986, and remained at or below 5% through

2002. Besides gay men, other subgroups disproportionately affected by

the epidemic also received relatively little focus, with 3% of stories

overall portraying U.S. minorities, 3% portraying teenagers and young

adults, and 2% portraying women as the affected population. Similarly,

images used in broadcast stories only rarely reflected specific

populations affected by HIV/AIDS. In an analysis of the “face of AIDS”

as visually portrayed in broadcast news, the most frequently portrayed

population was health care professionals (20% of broadcast stories). Gay

men were the on-camera focus of 3% of stories, teenagers and young

adults were portrayed in 3%, minorities in 1%, and women in 1%.

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