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Situation or Social Problem: The Influence of Events on Media Coverage of Homelessness

Publication Abstract

Best, Rachel. 2010. "Situation or Social Problem: The Influence of Events on Media Coverage of Homelessness." Social Problems, 57(1): 74-91.

Despite a strong interest in media coverage of social problems, sociologists have failed to examine when and why news outlets present issues as problems in need of public action within short time periods. Through content analysis of 475 newspaper articles and negative binomial regression, I show that coverage of homelessness varies in the extent to which it presents homelessness as a social problem. The fact that not all news coverage discusses social problems challenges the claim that social problems necessarily compete for attention in a zero-sum game. I also examine the effects of three types of events (events promoted to the media by their actors and high- and low-profile events not promoted by their actors) on newspapers' likelihood of describing homelessness as a social problem. While previous researchers predicted that events not promoted by their actors would lead to media coverage that challenged the status quo, I find that actor-promoted events are much more likely to do so. This finding highlights the importance of institutionalized action in calling attention to social problems.

DOI:10.1525/sp.2010.57.1.74 (Full Text)

Country of focus: United States of America.

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