As social media and television news becomes a deeper fixture in American life, their ability to shape narratives and dispense information continues to rise. The ability to reach millions of people with crucial information is a wonderful opportunity, but for the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, topics covered by the media does not always sync with health care providers. With cable news shows reaching millions on a daily basis, new studies are tracking the evolution of hearing loss coverage, identifying what topics are covered, how narratives are shaped, and how that is affecting patients and medical professionals. This new glimpse into hearing loss coverage is raising awareness about the importance of accurate and streamlined information for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Lead by researchers Manchaiah, Beukes, and Ratinaud, a 2019 study analyzed how hearing loss and hearing aids are represented in the United States media from 1990 to 2017. Their study yielded interesting results, finding that The Washington Post reported on the topic of “hearing loss” the most, making up 26% of the results they found, while the U.S. Federal News Service comprised 50% of results covering “hearing aids”. In more recent years, coverage has expanded as new topics have been discovered, discussing terms such as “signal processing” and cognitive hearing science.
Their study also indicates that the frequency of these terms has increased, which research attributes to either a rise in media outlets, general interest of the topics, or both. Regardless of the reason, Manchaiah and Ratinaud’s results show that there is an important “wide and realistic portrayal” of these topics in the media, which is critical to making sure patients are getting the information they need.
When discussing media coverage, the unfortunate truth lies in a news outlet’s desire to sensationalize topics or form their own narrative to garner more viewers. This can lead to coverage that does not focus on the facts, releases disinformation, or does not seek help or review by a medical professional. Targeted coverage of “popular” hearing loss topics can leave patients with inaccurate information or looking for representation of their specific condition. The importance of releasing accurate and up-to-date information when covering hearing loss has never been higher, as American’s trust in mass media has plummeted to historic lows. To ensure patients and health care providers stay tuned in, it’s critical that media outlets cover with care.
As the years’ pass, new breakthroughs in hearing health have been discovered, prompting media outlets to follow suit in their coverage. As Manchaiah, Beukes, and Ratinaud explain, this is a wonderful opportunity when hearing health professionals get involved Staying up to date with the information and disinformation released to the public allows health care providers to better shape the narrative when it comes to these conditions or treatments, and to better prepare for questions and concerns patients may have learned about through the media. With seven out of ten Americans participating in social media websites such as Twitter, it also opens a new form of communication between patient and doctor, increasing the cooperation between the news and health. As long as the media gets it right, of course.