April 2-4, 2020 • Hyatt Regency • Lexington, KY
Intersectionality and Interdisciplinarity in Health Communication Research
Abstract: Nationwide Media Coverage of Gun Safety: Community Structure Theory and Community Vulnerability
◆ Olivia Degirolamo, The College of New Jersey
◆ Hayley Martin, The College of New Jersey
◆ Dana Corvil, The College of New Jersey
◆ Gianna Calandra, The College of New Jersey
◆ John C. Pollock, The College of New Jersey
◆ James Sparano, The College of New Jersey
Community structure theory (Pollock, 2007, 2013, 2015) was used to compare city characteristics and nationwide media coverage of gun safety in newspapers in 28 major U.S cities, sampling all articles with 250+ words from 12/14/2012 to 8/3/2019. The resulting 531 articles were coded for “prominence” and “direction” (“government responsibility”, “societal responsibility”, or “balanced/neutral” coverage), then combined into each newspaper’s composite “Media Vector” (range= .879 to -0.766, or 1.645). Twenty-two of 28 newspapers (79 percent) manifested government responsibility for gun safety.
Overall, the results confirmed a strong “vulnerability” pattern. (Media “mirror” the interest of marginal/disadvantaged groups: Pollock, 2007, p. 137.). Higher percentages of uninsured in a city are linked to more media emphasis on “government” responsibility for gun safety (r=0.479, p=0.007), as are higher percentages below the poverty line (r=0.345, p=0.039). Consistently, the greater the violent crime rate in a city (r=0.289, p=0.076), the more “directional” (though not significant) the media emphasis on government responsibility for gun safety. Regression analysis yielded greater percentages of uninsured in a city accounting for 22.9% of the variance associated with coverage emphasizing government responsibility for gun safety.
Finding measures of “vulnerability” associated with media support for government responsibility for gun safety is a complete departure from previous community structure research. For example, Patel, et al. (2017), confirmed essentially the “opposite” of the “vulnerability” hypothesis: a “buffer” hypothesis (privileged groups linked to sympathetic coverage of groups making rights claims) “Privileged” cities with greater healthcare access -- greater numbers of physicians per 100,000 and greater numbers of hospital beds per 100,000 people -- were associated with greater media emphasis on government responsibility for gun safety. One way to account for different findings: The 2017 Patel, et al. study sampled newspapers from 12/14/12 – 11/7/16, about four years. By contrast, the current study sampled newspapers for a more recent, almost seven-year period from 12/14/12 to 08/3/019, encompassing far more mass shootings.
Of all four US regions, the South had by far the most coverage emphasizing government responsibility for gun safety, contrasting sharply with the South as the region displaying the greatest proportion of gun ownership in the US: Almost 47% of gun owners in the US live in the South, compared to less than half of that in the West (23%) and Midwest (22%). What might account for this discrepancy between Southern newspapers disproportionately calling for government responsibility for gun safety in a region historically suspicious of “government’ interference?
Empirically, media coverage of gun safety confirms it as a national issue associated with community vulnerability. Methodologically, combining measures of both “prominence” and “direction,” highly sensitive Media Vectors highlighted the capacity of media to reflect community measures of “vulnerability.” Theoretically, emphasizing the influence of local demographics, community structure theory complements agenda-setting theory at the national level, reconfirming the findings of an original founder of agenda-setting (Funk & McCombs, 2017), that both nationally prominent newspapers (agenda setting) and local community characteristics/concerns (community structure) can affect coverage of critical local issues.