The mass media can exert considerable influence over the relative saliency of different public policy concerns. Because emotional resonance can have a strong impact on how the general public and policy makers perceive specific issues, the purpose of this study is to characterize the tone of nursing home coverage in the national media.
Keyword searches of LexisNexis were used to identify 1562 articles published in 4 national newspapers from 1999 to 2008. The content of each article was analyzed and tone, themes, prominence, focal entity, and geographic focus assessed. Multinomial logit was used to examine the correlates of tone.
Most articles were negative (49.2%) or neutral (40.3%); few were positive (10.5%). Both positive and negative articles were considerably more likely than neutral articles (>10 times) to be an opinion piece. Negative articles were three quarters more likely to be on the front page and two thirds more likely to focus on industry actors. Positive articles were 10 times more likely to be about community actors and two and three quarters more likely to be about local issues. Positive articles were considerably more likely to be about quality; negative articles about negligence/fraud and natural disasters.
Findings suggest that negative reporting predominates and its impact on public perceptions and government decision making may be reinforced by its prominence and focus on industry interests/behavior. The adverse impact of media coverage on the industry’s reputation has likely influenced consumer care choices, particularly in light of growing competition from the home-based and community-based and assisted living sectors.