Using newspaper content analysis to understand media representations of health issues and inform improved health policy advocacy

Patterson, Christopher C. (2020) Using newspaper content analysis to understand media representations of health issues and inform improved health policy advocacy. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[img] PDF (PhD thesis awarded by published work)
Download (6MB)


The mass media represent a powerful societal institution that reflects and shapes the social, cultural and political world. Within health research, media content analysis is an increasingly popular tool for examining how the media represent, and potentially influence, audiences’ understandings of health. This submission comprises eight published papers analysing UK news media representations of health issues and policies, and an explanatory essay. The essay seeks to contextualise the papers within relevant theoretical literatures and demonstrate the papers’ original contributions, both individually and collectively, to knowledge in health communication and policy advocacy. The analytical developments between the submitted papers are contextualised within literatures on the mass media, media research and policymaking, each of which is has been a site of paradigmatic change.

The submitted papers demonstrate the application of content analysis to UK newspaper and online news coverage of obesity, single-episodic drinking, alcohol pricing policy, smoke-free policy and e-cigarette regulation. Approaches used include quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods content analysis, consistent with the epistemological heterogeneity of the field. Each paper is informed by relevant theory, chiefly agenda setting theory and framing theory. While each paper produces its own novel topic-specific insights, the explanatory essay also considers commonalities across topics that lead to transferrable learning for practice in health communication and policy advocacy.

The submitted works’ novel contributions to knowledge include: documenting media frames; analysing trends within media frames; documenting stakeholders’ engagement in media debates; highlighting the strategic importance of defining target groups; identifying areas for improvement in media health communication; identifying the need for a social justice approach to public health communication; and identifying the need to engage with values of public health. Specific transferrable learning emerging from synthesis of findings includes: the effectiveness of positioning children as affected groups in negating opposition arguments about individual responsibility; the opportunity to use trends in media coverage to anticipate media framing and policy actor engagement in media debates; and the need for health communication to avoid reproducing harmful stigma, stereotyping and inequality.

While content analysis alone cannot provide conclusive prescriptions for media engagement, the submitted works mitigate the inherent restrictions of the method through the use of rigorous, theory-led methods and the triangulation of findings between different topics and analytical approaches. In doing so, the submitted works contribute to a growing international literature by providing health communicators and policy advocates with novel learning that may contribute to practice. The explanatory essay justifies the importance of studying mass media representations of health issues and policies, and demonstrates the contribution of the submitted works to understanding media representations of health issues and informing improved health policy advocacy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: media, public health, health policy, communications, content analysis, policy advocacy.
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences
Funder's Name: Medical Research Council
Supervisor's Name: Hilton, Professor Shona
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Mr Christopher C Patterson
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81415
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2021 17:38
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2022 13:58
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81415
Related URLs:

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year