TV Coverage of Tragedies Often Lacks Prevention Messages

When police, fire officials interviewed, viewers twice as likely to hear advice

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THURSDAY, May 8, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- When television news reports about traffic crashes, fires or other injury-causing events feature interviews with police officers and fire department officials, viewers are more than twice as likely to hear prevention information that could help them and their families, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin analyzed one month's worth of late-evening TV newscasts from 122 stations in the nation's top 50 television markets.

Of the 2,795 newscasts, 1,748 included coverage of incidents such as crashes, fires, falls, drownings, accidental poisonings and recreational and sporting mishaps. Most of the stories (84 percent) involved crashes or fires.

Only 245 of the stories featured an interview with a police officer, fire official or other public services professional. These stories were much more likely to include prevention and risk-reduction information -- 2.5 times more likely for crash stories and more than 2.75 times more likely for fire stories -- than stories that didn't have these kinds of interviews.

"In the end, if police and firefighters appeared on camera, it meant more prevention messages for the public," study author Dr. James Pribble, an emergency medicine physician at the U-M Health System, said in a prepared statement.

"This suggests that we have a very powerful opportunity to train these public service professionals to be ready to give interviews on the spot, often on the scene, to give the public prevention tips and information about current public policy issues in injury prevention and safety," Pribble said.

The study was published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Next, the researchers hope to survey police and fire departments across the United States to find out how they handle news media inquiries and how many officers have been trained as media spokespeople. The researchers also plan to analyze more TV coverage of accidental injuries, including coverage on Spanish-language newscasts.

"With the intense deadlines of daily TV news, it's hard to get the media to change how it covers certain kinds of staple stories," Pribble said. "But if we can help the media have easy access to experts who can give useful information for the public, and information on what is being done on a policy level to make the public even safer, the end result will be the same: The public will be better informed about injury prevention."

More information

The World Health Organization has more about injury prevention.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, May 2008

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