There is a perception that the public has generally negative views of nursing homes (NHs), which is likely to be influenced by their portrayal in the media. A content analysis of 1,562 articles published in four majorU.S.print newspapers finds a tendency toward negative reporting about NHs. Positive stories were less likely to be prominently displayed and tended to focus on local issues, residents and their families, and quality.
The authors of the study performed keyword searches in the LexisNexis database for NH-related articles published between 1999 and 2008 in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune. The authors coded each story based on tone (positive, negative, or neutral), prominence in the newspaper, themes (such as financing, quality, or negligence), and other related attributes (such as whether the story was of local or national interest). The authors compared the interrelationships of these characteristics across the articles.
Just under half of the articles were negative in tone, while only 10.5 percent were positive. Negative articles tended to focus on issues of negligence or fraud, or on natural disasters. (Here it is useful to consider that the time range of the article search included Hurricane Katrina, which led to many tragic stories about NHs and the social consequences of the hurricane; the authors note a dramatic rise in stories about disasters occurring in 2005.) Positive articles were more likely to be local stories, or stories about particular families or other local individuals. Stories about the NH industry as a whole were more likely to be negative in tone.
The authors note that these findings may not generalize to other newspapers. Further, they note that news media by their nature tend to highlight problems and other issues of concern. (It is important, for example, for journalists to attend to stories of negligence or elder abuse.) The study did not include a comparison sample of another topic or industry, so it is difficult to determine whether NH news stories are more likely to be negative than other aging or health topics. The authors suggest that NHs should develop improved media strategies that highlight positive changes in the industry, such as the culture change movement.