Integrating Public Health Content Into Media Coverage of Celebrity DUIs

Amanda Bynes is just the latest young female celebrity to be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).  The media coverage has been extensive, with some outlets even raising the question, "Is she the next Lindsay Lohan?"  A fellow former child star, Lindsay Lohan has consistently been in the news the past 5 years with DUI arrests, rehab stints, and poor career decisions.  However, just a few weeks ago we heard the good news that she has been taken off probation from her DUI hopefully things are looking up.

Pop Health has written about related issues in the past:  how soon is too soon to find a teachable moment in a celebrity DUI deathHow does popular media help establish the public health agenda? How does media coverage of public health issues (e.g., suicide) affect the public's health?

So now let's put the pieces together and discuss the work of public health researchers that focuses specifically on media coverage of young female celebrity DUIs.  In 2009, Smith, Twum, and Gielen published "Media Coverage of Celebrity DUIs: Teachable Moments or Problematic Social Modeling?" in the journal of Alcohol & Alcoholism.  They conducted an analysis of US media coverage of four female celebrities (Michelle Rodriguez, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan).  The study examined media coverage in the year after their DUI arrests (December 2005 through June 2008).  Among other things, the stories were coded for the presence of public health content (e.g., arrest, death, and injury statistics for DUI).  The authors found that the coverage was primarily focused on the individual celebrities (i.e., their legal and professional repercussions) versus broader social or public health impacts.  They recommended that future research examine both the news coverage and the comprehension and use of that content for policy and behavior change initiatives.

Coverage of a celebrity DUI has the potential to be a teachable moment, but we as public health practitioners need to take advantage of it.  We need to be monitoring pop culture news so that these teachable moments can be identified. We need to partner with journalists in order to make sure that a "public health frame" is incorporated in the development of the articles.  Most importantly, we need to continue to evaluate the media content and use that data to develop effective interventions and policy recommendations.

What do you think?
  •   What strategies/information channels do you use to stay on top of public health-pop culture news?
  •   How can the public health and journalism fields partner to take advantage of teachable moments and cover public health issues safely and effectively?

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