Audiences Prefer Health Reporting with Practical Action Steps

Analysis of audience surveys about health news reporting offers insights into the reasons why people choose to share certain stories.

by Jena Barchas-LichtensteinJohn FraserNicole LaMarcaJohn VoiklisDarcey GlasserUduak Grace Thomas
Apr 14, 2020

Key Findings

Analysis of audience surveys about health news stories reported by PBS NewsHour show that people not only learn about public health matters from the media, they actively share what they learn with their social networks.

Results from a third year of analysis of audience data indicate that people view news stories as a reliable source of health information. And they are willing to discuss some stories they consume with their social networks. Across six stories that we asked participants to watch or read as part of this study, respondents said that they were most likely to describe the story to someone else. The next most common way of sharing is on social media, and followed by sharing via email.

Moreover, the analysis shows that people generally have one of two reasons for choosing the stories they share. Firstly, they were interested in talking about stories that contain specific action steps for audiences. For example, after hearing a story about asbestos exposure, a respondent said they might discuss the story with people they know so that they could be more thoughtful about the products they buy and the places where they work. Secondly, people felt that talking about news stories is an important part of certain social relationships. For example, one respondent who saw a story focused on pregnant women and alcohol said that they would talk about the story with their partner because they like to talk about interesting topics.

We also collected data on how audiences respond emotionally to stories. The analysis revealed a mix of positive and negative reactions. Two of the six stories evoked primarily positive feelings in audiences; both of these stories largely focused on ways that people could take charge of their health. Audiences had more negative feelings about the remaining four stories, which spent more time on risks to health but didn’t offer a way forward. Participants also frequently stated that the actionable tips offered in these stories are their favorite aspects of public health news stories.

Let’s Put It to Work

For Media Organizations: Though this research focused specifically on news stories reported by PBS NewsHour, the lessons are applicable to all news organizations. Members of the public trust reporters to provide timely, actionable information about public health matters and they are willing to discuss that information with people they interact with. To best support audiences, news stories should include actionable steps that help people mitigate existing risks or become more informed health advocates for themselves and their families.

For Health Advocates, and Media Organizations too: Another valuable step would be to brainstorm ways that health advocates and news media can help facilitate in-person discussion and sharing of reliable health news content, for example, accurate information about preventing the spread of disease or caring for the health of communities in crisis. This report includes recommendations for how to promote this kind of dialogue.

About This Study

PBS NewsHour is focusing on building health literacy among adult and teen audiences through the Health Literacy and Student Reporting Labs project. Knology is the evaluator for the project, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The project has two goals: to engage middle and high school students in health science journalism, and to increase general news audiences’ awareness of public health matters. Results from our analysis of students’ data are reported here. The study is ongoing and we are continuing to collect and analyze data.

This project is part of “The New News,” a larger collaboration with PBS NewsHour on ways that audiences and journalists alike interact with the news media. Read more about our work on how a subset of the US public – early career adults – engage with STEM News here and here.

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

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