One of the goals of the Gateway Media Literacy Partners is to help the public understand how the media report stories and how to interpret the messages that media deliver. Part of that is our commitment to ensuring that stories about science and medicine are scientifically accurate and not inflammatory.
A particular area that has sparked a lot of passion in the past few years is childhood vaccination. Despite evidence that vaccines are effective at preventing life-threatening infections and are overwhelmingly safe, media outlets have often felt the need to include anti-vaccination "experts" to provide a "balance of opinion," giving undue credence to completely discredited studies and spokespersons.
This story which aired on KSDK NewsChannel 5 in April 2015, is an example of how the cultural tide is shifting on this topic toward a truly science-centered approach since the Disney measles outbreak of the winter of 2014-2015.
A couple of things to note at the outset:
- It runs almost 5 minutes, an eternity in local news.
- There are no anti-vax parents nor anti-vax "experts" interviewed in the piece.
- All images of kids relating to measles are photos of kids with measles, not kids screaming while getting the MMR shot.
Beyond all that, it ran on the Sunday night after-prime time broadcast, and the station started showing promos for it on Thursday of the previous week. This, then, was the marquee investigative report for the weekend.
It's especially notable that kids getting shots is not included as B-roll, the images behind spoken narration. This stock shot is often the only image of a child in these stories (i.e., one in distress, being harmed by getting a pointy needle). Instead, the use of images of kids sick with measles is a much more accurate depiction of where parental anxiety should be addressed.
This is an example of how this sort of story should be reported. One goal at the Gateway Media Literacy Partners is to help guide media outlets towards more accurate, science-based reporting earlier in the life cycle of stories and to give the general public tools to judge the accuracy and biases of the media they consume.