Crashes: get the story but miss the message

a photo of Dr. Susan Connor

Dr. Connor

Not letting the truth get in the way of a good story, researchers find that newspapers in the Midwest underreported and misrepresented fatal car crashes, missing the opportunity to educate the public on an important health and safety issue.  Here are the specifics:

Newspaper Framing of Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes in four Midwestern Cities in the United States, 1999–2000,” Susan N. Connor, Ph.D. [pictured], and Kathryn Wesolowski, Injury Prevention, Vol. 10 (3), June 2004, pp. 149–153.  DOI: 10.1136/ip.2003.003376.  The authors, from the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, OH, write:

Methods: Crash details were extracted from two years of newspaper coverage of fatal crashes in four Midwestern cities in the United States. […]

Conclusion: Newspaper coverage did not accurately reflect real risk. Papers presented fatal crashes as dramas with a victim/villain storyline; in keeping with this narrative strategy, papers were most likely to cover stories where a driver survived to take the blame. By highlighting crashes that diverge from the norm, focusing on the assignment of blame to a single party, and failing to convey the message that preventive practices like seatbelt use increase odds for survival, newspapers removed crashes from a public health context and positioned them as individual issues.