Analysis of Media Platforms Through Reports on a Listeria Outbreak

A listeria outbreak across Australia linked to a NSW rockmelon farm, has left six people dead. Following investigation by NSW authorities, alerts were broadcast advising people, specifically those in high risk categories, not to eat rockmelons bought since early February. The health scare has devastated sales of rockmelons.

This blog post compares the strengths and weaknesses of television, online print and Facebook in reporting the listeria outbreak before the third death was announced. I will use an online article from the ABC

http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2018-02-28/two-dead-national-rockmelon-listeria-outbreak/9494576

7 News report

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and an SBS Facebook post as case studies.

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Timeliness and Prominence:

The link to rockmelons was confirmed five days after the listeriosis warning was issued by NSW Health on February 23rd. From the evening of February 28th the story was broadcast using recycled content after confirmation from NSW authorities linked the listeria to rockmelons. Media releases appeared over March 1st, maintaining a top five position on the news bulletin including additional information and footage as the story developed. Timeliness did not differentiate the news platforms.

Angle:

The media, according to Rogers and Storey (as cited in Noar, 2006), are “critical for the diffusion of messages to the public.” The angle across all platforms therefore focused on consumer health. The Facebook post covered major facts whereas the ABC and 7 News reports also angled the story towards increasing the audience’s listeria knowledge and insight into industry action, adhering to Allern’s (2002, p.145)  “commercial” values.

News values:

Lamble (2011) defines that the measure of newsworthiness is determined by the inclusion of significance, proximity, conflict, human interest, novelty and prominence values. The listeria story satisfies all but prominence, but with differences in how the studied platforms represent them.

Facebook:

Facebook posts provided concise updates to the story and therefore the news values are brief. The SBS update achieves the geographical proximity and significance values by making “Australians” describe both the location and number of people impacted by the outbreak. The two reported deaths create the conflict value through the “physical life” element described by Lamble. Furthermore human interest is generated by reporting the tragedies.

Television and online Print:

The television and online print mediums explore the news values more extensively. The significance value is strengthened in the ABC’s article and 7 News piece using a comparison between the number of people affected and average listeria cases per year. In the television report, the significance value is focused on Australians with health conditions that have consumed foods commonly containing listeria. The ABC report says “people around the country….may already have listeria-infected rockmelons in their homes” to widen the impact to all Australians, only later specifying who’s at risk. Both TV and online print also describe the impacts on supermarkets but not the significant impacts on the farming industry.

The significance value assists in portraying the conflict in the story through emphasising the dangers of listeria. These platforms add further conflict through the inclusion of investigation updates and in 7’s report mention of a potential increase in victims. These statistics prompt “a great sympathy for those who have suffered,” defined by Lamble as human interest. The print and television platforms also follow the basis of Moellers  observation (cited by Lamble, 2011) that children are a “default way for journalists to capture interest.” For this story they replace the child with vulnerable people, eliciting an emotional response that creates closeness in the community also addressing the proximity value. Imagery (below) in the 7 News report assists to create these news values.

Cases of listeria usually don’t cover enough news values to warrant broadcast.  However, the combination of proximity and significance result in a “strange….rare or unusual” outbreak. This allied with imagery of rockmelons, an unexpected source of danger, create Lamble’s novelty value.

Finally, the sixth news value, prominence, described by Lamble as reporting about people in the “media spotlight” is not applicable as names are absent from all three reports.

Comprehensiveness:

Lamble observes that Kipling’s (1896), who, what, where, when, why and how are the “keys journalists use to gather information” and can be used to analyse the comprehensiveness of news platforms.

Comparatively the ABC article and 7 News report can include more information than Facebook, thereby incorporating more of Kipling’s factors. They use interviews which according to Blaine (2013) hold the stories together. ABC’s article and 7 News covered the first four “keys” by including who is at risk, where and when the listeria outbreak occurred and what the impacts are. However only the online news article addressed how the listeria transfers through rockmelon skin to the flesh. Why these rockmelons developed listeria is unknown.

Facebook has limited comprehensiveness due to the concise nature of posts. The SBS update addresses the what and where loosely but not the other four factors. Facebook also omits interviews and therefore doesn’t offer the same level of comprehensiveness as the other platforms.

Fairness and balance:

Facebook, television and print media report an unbalanced view, at odds with the media’s responsibility to broadcast warnings to the public (Noar, 2016.)

Despite having less content restrictions, online print media demonstrates bias. The industry information in the ABC article is brief, angling insight from the Melon Association to the consumer rather than whether other farms are “implicated.”  The 7 News television report followed a similar pattern through footage of sliced rockmelons and a live reporter with a metropolitan backdrop to steer audience concern to the general public and away from rockmelon farmers.

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Facebook’s poor comprehensiveness impacts on its balance through filtering and re formatting information, according to Bright (2016.) However the essence of Facebook is to quickly post updates to stories, skipping known details and expecting gaps in information to be addressed through following the links to other information.

Conclusion:

Through analysing three main articles about the listeria outbreak,the strengths and weaknesses of Facebook, online print and television platforms are apparent. Each report had similar timeliness and story angles. The key difference resulted from the depth exhibited in their comprehensiveness and newsworthy values.  

This variation is a reflection of the speed and manner in which their audience wishes to consume news.  Facebook is influenced by modern society’s demand “to consume stories and information on their schedules” according to Blaine. Although Facebook provides links to reports by “traditional distributors” as an option to deepen understanding according to Bergstrom (2018), its comprehensiveness and news values are negatively impacted by its main selling point, defined by Dunlop (2016, 69-84) as it’s “speed” at updating the audience. In contrast, the online print and television reports deliberately trade off speed for the supporting expertise, information and imagery they provide.

References:

Allern, S. (2002). Journalistic and Commercial News Values. Nordicom Review, 23(1-2). http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/nor-2017-0327

Bergstrom, A., & Belfrage, M. (2018). News in Social Media. Digital Journalism. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2018.1423625

Blaine, M. (2013) The digital reporter’s notebook.

Bright, J. (2016). The Social News Gap: How News Reading and News Sharing Diverge. Journal Of Communication, 66(3), 343-365. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12232

Dunlop, T. (2016). Media Innovation & Disruption (pp. 69-84). Albert Park, Victoria: Future Leaders.

Lamble, S. (2011). News as it happens. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Noar, S. (2006). A 10-Year Retrospective of Research in Health Mass Media Campaigns: Where Do We Go From Here?. Journal Of Health Communication, 11(1), 21-42. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10810730500461059

Further Readings:

Berger, C., Roloff, M., & Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. (2010). The handbook of communication science (pp. 817–846). Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage.

Fenton, N. (2012). New media, old news. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Wahl-Jorgensen, K., & Hanitzsch, T. (2009). The handbook of journalism studies. New York: Routledge.

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