News Release

Two new studies led by Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s Dr. Jessica Beard more closely examine how reports of community firearm violence are framed on local television news in Philadelphia

The research was published in Preventive Medicine Reports and BMC Public Health

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Temple University Health System

Two new studies published in Preventive Medicine Reports and BMC Public Health led by corresponding author Jessica H. Beard, MD, MPH, FACS, Associate Professor of Surgery in the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care and Director of Trauma Research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, more closely examine how reports of community firearm violence are framed on local television news in Philadelphia and the downstream effects of that coverage on the general public’s perception of the issue.

Both studies build on previous research led by Dr. Beard, also the Director of Research at the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting (PCGVR) and a Stoneleigh Foundation Fellow, and are partially funded by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on which Dr. Beard is the principal investigator.

In Preventive Medicine Reports, Dr. Beard and the research team set out to better identify the systematic differences between the characteristics of victims of community firearm violence and the events covered on local television news compared with all shootings in the city of Philadelphia.

The team compiled a sample of news clips covering shootings in Philadelphia from all four local television stations on two randomly selected days per month from January-June 2021 for a total of 154 clips. These clips were then coded to determine demographic and geographic information and were matched with corresponding shootings in the Philadelphia Police Department database. The team compared the characteristics of victims and event locations presented in local television news clips with the overall characteristics of shootings in Philadelphia during that time period and found:

  • Victims whose shootings were covered on local television news were younger, more likely to be children and were more likely to be injured in a mass shooting.
  • Shootings featured on local television news were more likely to occur in areas with a higher median household income, lower rates of socioeconomic inequality and lower rates of racialized economic segregation.

In BMC Public Health, Dr. Beard and the research team approached the depiction of community firearm violence on local television news in Philadelphia from a broader lens, and sought to identify and measure both public health elements and harmful content elements in reporting.

Public health elements include data/trends, discussion of root causes and solutions, and public health narrators and visuals.

Harmful content elements were identified by firearm-injured people in a previous study by the research team as:

  • Visual of crime scene
  • Not a follow-up story
  • Only narrator is law enforcement
  • Number of gunshot wounds
  • Clinical condition of firearm-injured person
  • Relationship between firearm-injured person and shooter
  • Name of treating hospital
  • Video or audio of shooting

The team once again compiled a sample of news clips covering shootings from all four local Philadelphia television stations – this time of Philadelphia-area and national incidents – on two randomly selected days per month from January-June 2021 for a total of 192 clips. Of those:

  • 68.2% were local stories of firearm violence in Philadelphia.
  • 79.2% used episodic framing – focusing on a single incident – versus thematic framing, which would provide broader social and structural context.
  • Law enforcement officials were the primary source of information in 50.5% of segments.
  • No segments contained a health or public health professional or firearm-injured person.
  • 79.2% of stories included police imagery.
  • 84.4% of the clips contained at least one harmful content element.
  • Public health frame elements were missing from most clips.
  • Thematic stories were more likely to contain public health frame elements and less likely to have harmful content, but were not longer than episodic stories.

“Our findings in Preventive Medicine Reports reveal that segments about community firearm violence on local television news are neither demographically nor geographically representative of both who – and where – is most disproportionally impacted in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Beard. “Beyond that, our BMC Public Health study demonstrates that these segments also frequently contain harmful elements and lack the context necessary for a deeper understanding of the issue. These news stories may be the only window into community firearm violence that the general public has, and they often are not getting a complete picture, but instead one that research has indicated can lead audiences to blame victims, reinforce racist stereotypes and undermine effective public health responses.

“Strides are being made in journalism to rectify these concerns,” Dr. Beard added. “In the past, guidelines were developed in cases of suicide, mass shootings, sexual assault, abuse, and crime involving minors, and newsroom practices were revised. Fortunately, new guidelines are being developed for reporting on community firearm violence. PCGVR, for instance, has developed a toolkit in collaboration with Frameworks for minimizing harmful reporting on community firearm violence, and our research will help build a foundation for further efforts in the future.”

Other researchers involved in the Preventive Medicine Reports study include Raha Raissian, Shannon Trombley and Tia Walker, of the Katz School of Medicine; Leah Roberts and Christopher N. Morrison, of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; Laura Partain, of Ohio State University’s School of Communication; Jim MacMillan, of PCGVR; and Jennifer Midberry, of Lehigh University’s Department of Journalism and Communication.

Other researchers involved in the BMC Public Health study include Shannon Trombley and Tia Walker, of the Katz School of Medicine; Leah Roberts, of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; Laura Partain, of Ohio State University’s School of Communication; Jim MacMillan, of PCGVR; and Jennifer Midberry, of Lehigh University’s Department of Journalism and Communication.

The research published in Preventive Medicine Reports was funded by the Stoneleigh Foundation, the NIMHD of the NIH under Award Number R21MD019088 and by grant R49CE003094 from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The research published in BMC Public Health was funded by the Stoneleigh Foundation, Lehigh University Research Investment Programs, the NIMHD of the NIH under Award Number R21MD019088 and by grant R49CE003094 from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the CDC.

About the Lewis Katz School of Medicine
Founded in 1901, the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University attracts students and faculty committed to advancing individual and population health through culturally competent patient care, research, education, and service. The School confers the MD degree; MS and PhD degrees in Biomedical Science; the MA in Urban Bioethics; the MS in Physician Assistant studies; a certificate in Narrative Medicine; a non-degree post-baccalaureate program; several dual degree programs with other Temple University schools; continuing medical education programs; and in partnership with Temple University Hospital, 40 residency and fellowship programs for physicians. The School also manages a robust portfolio of publicly and privately funded transdisciplinary studies aimed at advancing the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease -- with specialized research centers focused on heart disease, cancer, substance use disorder, metabolic disease, and other regional and national health priorities. To learn more about the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, please visit: medicine.temple.edu.


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