Abstract: Is all Publicity Good Publicity? A Content Analysis of News Coverage Surrounding South Dakota’s Anti-Meth Campaign

◆ Elissa C. Kranzler, University of Pennsylvania
◆ Leeann Siegel, University of Pennsylvania

Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive stimulant used widely in many parts of the US. Overdose deaths due to meth use have increased in recent years in states such as South Dakota, where the number of people seeking treatment for meth addiction doubled from 2014 to 2018. Spurred by this crisis, the state recently initiated an anti-meth campaign featuring the slogan, “Meth. We’re On It.” The controversial slogan, employed to increase awareness of South Dakota’s meth addiction problems, sparked widespread news media coverage and social media backlash. To understand the content of such coverage, we assessed the valence, or sentiment, of campaign-related news articles. We also examined mentions of the severity of the epidemic, and the provision of information related to meth addiction treatment— two variables that could influence the extent to which the campaign could be said to have fulfilled its goal of generating broader awareness of the meth epidemic.

We searched LexisNexis for all news documents related to the campaign from November 18-24, 2019, immediately after its launch. The following search terms were used: (south and dakota) and meth and (campaign or ad or advertisement or psa or public service announcement). One coder hand-coded all documents for positive and negative valence toward the campaign, mentions of the severity of the epidemic, and provision of information related to meth addiction treatment. A second coder coded a random sample of 30 documents for the same variables. Using this sample, inter-coder reliability was assessed by calculating the percentage agreement between coders for each coding variable (agreement ranged from 0.87-0.93).

Of the 367 documents produced by our initial search, 111 duplicates were removed. Of the remaining 256 documents, an additional 115 were excluded for containing videos without text, passing mentions of the campaign (defined as fewer than 3 campaign references), unrelated content, and links that did not work. In the final coding sample (n=141), the majority of documents (63.1%) contained mixed (both positive and negative) valence. An additional 25.5% contained only negative valence, while fewer (10.6%) contained only positive valence. The majority of documents (71.6%) mentioned the severity of South Dakota’s meth epidemic, however only a small portion (11.3%) directed readers to additional information about meth addiction treatment.

Despite the controversial nature of the campaign and the backlash it incited on social media, news coverage of the campaign contained balanced content, with arguments both in favor of and against the campaign. Findings suggest discussion of the campaign did not divert news media attention from discussing the severity of the meth epidemic. Despite the potential for increased campaign awareness, findings suggest news coverage did not generally provide information about addiction treatment, which may be crucial to addressing the prevalence of meth use in South Dakota. Future research will examine the content of campaign-relevant Twitter coverage for a more enhanced understanding of media coverage surrounding the campaign, and an assessment of whether reactions to the campaign differed among the general public compared to news media sources.