Notes for the Next Epidemic, Part One: Lessons from News Coverage of AIDS

By Timothy Cook

A paper by Timothy Cook, fall 1988 fellow, evaluates press coverage of the AIDS epidemic, and argues that many standard journalistic practices contributed to poor coverage of the issue, and may have led to slow policy responses. Cook cites several factors that led to inadequate coverage in the early years of the epidemic: the reliance on authoritative sources to suggest news, the downplaying of subjects that do not seem to affect the hypothetical mass audience, the use of storylines to quickly grasp new occurrences, concerns about content being seen as inflammatory, and the rapidity with which topics become old news. This paper serves as a case study in how journalistic norms and practices may contribute to systematic misreporting on social phenomena.

Download the paper (PDF).