Evaluating News Bias in Agriculture: The Salmonella Outbreak of 2008
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Although the United States is considered to have one of the safest food supplies in the world, consumers have become increasingly alarmed with the subject of food safety as each crisis-related outbreak is scrutinized. With the onset of an agricultural-related food crisis, the media plays a vital role in publicizing both facts and opinions. Because of the relationship between agricultural risk communication and the media, it is essential to study the level of bias in the news reporting of these agricultural risk-associated events. The purpose of this study was to analyze the coverage and level of bias of the Salmonella outbreak associated with tomatoes in associated press (AP) newswires during a six-month period in 2008 through a descriptive content analysis. A comprehensive search yielded 57 usable articles written during a six-month period surrounding the outbreak; these articles were analyzed using the Hayakawa-Lowry News Bias categories. A total of 1,444 sentences were coded into nine categories: (a) report attributed, (b) report unattributed, (c) inference labeled, (d) inference unlabeled, (e) judgment attributed favorable, (f) judgment attributed unfavorable, (g) judgment unattributed favorable, (h) judgment unattributed favorable, and (i) other. Data indicated a significantly higher number of report sentences as compared to judgment sentences. Report sentences are considered both verifiable and factual. Thus, data indicated a low level of bias. Additionally, although journalists were objectively reporting information regarding the Salmonella outbreak, per capita tomato consumption for 2008 decreased. In the wake of a crisis, objective reporting is crucial. Journalists have an obligation to report information that is objective, factual, and verifiable. Understanding how the media tells agriculture‘s story can help bridge the gap between the industry and those reporting the issues.
Schroeder, Charlsie Lauren (2010). Evaluating News Bias in Agriculture: The Salmonella Outbreak of 2008. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from