'If it bleeds it leads'? Attributes of TV health news stories that drive viewer attention

Crystale Purvis Cooper, Debra L. Roter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. Health advocates increasingly use the news media to educate the public. However, little is known about what motivates individuals to pay attention to health news. This study investigated which characteristics of TV health news stories attract viewer interest. Methods. The authors surveyed airport patrons, the audience of a public health symposium, and municipal jurors, asking which attributes of TV health news stories encouraged interest and which attributes discouraged interest. The authors ranked mean responses and compared them using Spearman rank correlations. Results. The rankings assigned by the three samples were highly correlated. Respondents reported being most attracted to health stories about personally relevant topics. Interestingly, they also reported that sensational story elements such as 'showing a bloody or injured person' and 'being action packed' did not substantially influence their attention. Conclusions. This study suggests that viewers, regardless of their level of health knowledge, value the same attributes in TV health news stories. Emphasizing the personal relevance of health topics appears to be a viable strategy to capture viewer interest. Conversely, the tendency of broadcast news to sensationalize stories may be distracting in the case of health news.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-338
Number of pages8
JournalPublic health reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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