How abortion coverage in the media changed, according to the data

Fear among potential sources and the decline of local journalists, including health care journalists, help explain why political reporting has been more abundant.

Early 2022, months ago Dobbs As per the decision, Pew Research conducted a survey on nearly 12,000 journalists across the country. Of the local journalists surveyed, 12 percent covered health-related conditions. Nearly three times as many covered government and politics, which is most common among local journalists.

In Tennessee, where an initial six-week trigger ban made it a crime to obtain an abortion, the newspapers included in the analysis employ a total of two health care-focused reporters and 11 government and politics reporters.

You could have a reporter who was 100 percent on reproductive health care in Tennessee, and that’s their entire story, and they have endless stories, said Elizabeth Fite, health care reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Politico’s review of local newspaper articles shows that abortion coverage is divided not only among health care journalists, but also among politics journalists, education journalists and sports journalists, a reflection of this. That’s how many aspects of American life are intertwined with abortion policy.

However, journalists new to covering the issue may not be as well-versed in the nuances of abortion, said Katie Woodruff, a public health social scientist at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who researches abortion coverage in the national media. are doing.

He said every story on a public health legislative issue needs to include some basic facts to frame that issue for the public.

Of course, abortion was not the exclusive domain of health care journalists at first. Dobbs, one of two. Abortion coverage for the Chattanooga Times Free Press was largely handled by its Nashville-based politics reporter and its faith and religion reporter, Fite said. FIGHT previously focused on COVID-19, the opioid epidemic and the business of health care in the Chattanooga community, one of the region’s largest industries. Otherwise, there aren’t many newspapers in Tennessee that have health care reporters, he said.

Fite, who has done much of his reporting on abortion over the past year, says it’s especially difficult to get people who want abortions to speak on the record. The stigma associated with abortion, especially in states where it is prohibited or restricted, can affect the types of stories that journalists are able to report.

“The hardest thing I have to deal with are the patients who travel to get abortions,” he said. “It’s really hard to get them on the record because Chattanooga is a small town.” Abortion is very unpopular here politically.

In 2021, Tennessee medical facilities provided approximately 12,200 abortions, according to the CDC. Today, abortion is banned in the state with limited exceptions.

In Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban that has not yet taken effect due to an ongoing challenge in the state Supreme Court over the state’s 15-week ban, abortion is a familiar news topic. Florida newspapers published more articles on abortion than any other state in the analysis: nearly 4,400 stories across 14 local newspapers.

Cindy Goodman, health reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, said abortion providers have asked her not to name them in stories out of concerns for their safety and their businesses.

Earlier this year, Goodman reported that abortion clinics in her state were flooded with patients attempting to access the procedure before the state’s current 15-week limit and meet the state’s requirement for a 24-hour waiting period. Were. Clinics in the state can face thousands of dollars in fines when they do not properly document 24-hour periods for patients.

These are small abortion clinics that operate without any money, so they cannot afford such large fines. That’s why they are very scared. They’re afraid to talk to me, Goodman said. They are afraid of drawing attention to themselves.

Among the thousands of articles published in Florida newspapers, among stories that mentioned abortion, politics came up nearly four times more often than health care, the most of any state.

Take, for example, the week that marks its 50th anniversary roe vs wade, Of the 68 stories published on abortion in Florida over the past seven days, only two covered what would soon become a national issue: Florida agency warns pharmacists not to dispense abortion pills, read one headline.

Most other news was busy with political updates, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the state Capitol to celebrate the anniversary. Roe deer Coverage often focused on the presidential politics between Harris and Republican-hopeful DeSantis.

It matters who wins the White House, said Michael Wagner, director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who has published research on how abortion became a partisan issue. news. But the election does not come in time to provide treatment to those who have become pregnant and do not want to.

KFF found that in states that ban abortion, more than half of voters surveyed said they were unsure about the abortion pill laws in their state.

In swing states, where votes will have the greatest influence in the 2024 election, political coverage of abortion is often even more influential. Of the top five states where coverage most favored politics over health care, four of them are expected to be competitive in the 2024 election.

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