Visuals’ function in health risk reporting: juxtaposing the academic conceptualisations with journalistic perceptions
Taylor and Francis Group
Is Version Of
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
Given the scholarly neglect of visuals in health risk reporting, it remains unclear what types of visuals predominate in news coverage and why journalists choose to use them. Generating knowledge on this neglected part of journalistic work should facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of health risk reporting and its impact on society. In 2020 we conducted two studies with this goal in mind: a content analysis of visuals in the coverage of a recent E. coli outbreak in Germany (N = 200) and a survey of German health journalists (N = 49). Study 1 showed that visuals were mostly used to illustrate the presumed causes of the outbreak and recommended treatments. Study 2 presented visuals epitomising each of the frame functions identified in Study 1 to health reporters and asked for their views. Our findings revealed that journalists preferred images that involve health severity, medical aspects, and reassurance, but said that they disliked thematic and uncertainty frames. They reported using multiple visuals to fulfil several framing functions. Finally, Study 2 exposed important differences between journalists’ perceptions of visuals’ functions and the way scholars typically conceive them. Taken together, these studies suggest that health risk reporting may be better than its reputation, and that incorporating visuals into assessments of journalistic quality may challenge the typical criticism in a way impossible when merely evaluating the verbal component of news.
This accepted article is published as Dan, V., Dimitrova,D., Visuals’ function in health risk reporting: juxtaposing the academic conceptualisations with journalistic perceptions. Health, Risk & Society. October 15, 2022. Latest Article. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2022.2133899. Posted with permission.