Delivering risk information in a dynamic information environment: Framing and authoritative voice in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and primetime broadcast news media communications during the 2014 Ebola outbreak

Anne Kott, Rupali J Limaye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective During a disease outbreak, media serve as primary transmitters of information from public health agencies to the public, and have been shown to influence both behavior and perception of risk. Differences in news frequency, framing and information source can impact the public's interpretation of risk messages and subsequent attitudes and behaviors about a particular threat. The media's framing of an outbreak is important, as it may affect both perception of risk and the ability to process important health information. Methods To understand how risk communication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the 2014 Ebola outbreak was framed and delivered and to what extent primetime broadcast news media mirrored CDC's framing and authoritative voice, 209 CDC communications and primetime broadcast transcripts issued between July 24 and December 29, 2014 were analyzed and coded by thematic frame and authoritative voice. Dominant frame and voice were determined for each month and for overall period of analysis. Results Medical frame was dominant in CDC (60%), Anderson Cooper 360 (49%), The Rachel Maddow Show (47%) and All In with Chris Hayes (47%). The human interest frame was dominant in The Kelly File (45%), while The O'Reilly Factor coverage was equally split between sociopolitical and medical frames (28%, respectively). Primetime news media also changed dominant frames over time. Dominant authoritative voice in CDC communications was that of CDC officials, while primetime news dominantly featured local and federal (non-CDC) government officials and academic/medical experts. Conclusion Differences in framing and delivery could have led the public to interpret risk in a different way than intended by CDC. Overall, public health agencies should consider adapting risk communication strategies to account for a dynamic news environment and the media's agenda. Options include adapting communications to short-form styles and embracing the concept of storytelling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-49
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2016



  • Content analysis
  • Disease outbreaks
  • Ebola
  • Media
  • Preparedness
  • Risk communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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