Newspapers Lend Support to Organ Transplantation

Author:  Metcalfe David

Date:  July 2007

Although often criticised for influencing political agendas, newspaper articles may impact favorably on levels of organ donation. According to a content analysis published in the journal Health Communication earlier this month, 57 percent of newspaper articles portray organ donation in a positive light. The lead author on the project, Thomas Feeley PhD from the University of Buffalo, believes that this portrayal is significant because "most of what people know about health issues they get second- or third-hand from the media or friends and family." Furthermore, according to Feeley, one theory "holds that media selectively influence leaders' opinions" on an issue such as the frequency at which mistakes occur during transplant surgery. These opinion formers then discuss the topic with members of the general public which helps to further disseminate the influence of the media.

Feeley and his co-author, Donald Vincent III, examined a total of 20 newspapers dated 2002 or 2003, and found 715 articles about organ transplantation. Of these, 57 percent took a positive approach, 15 percent negative and 28 percent were neutral. Each article was subjectively classified by one of the two authors.

The authors also attempted to categorise the subject matter of each article. They found, for example, that the most common type of organ transplantation reported was kidney transplants, followed by heart transplants. Their study also placed articles into seventeen different categories such as "living donation", in which a living donor donates an organ, "transplant process" and "celebrity donor/recipient".

Although organ donation was largely portrayed in a positive light, Feeley said that they found "a lack of knowledge about the critical shortage of organs and about how organs are procured and assigned." Furthermore, clinical malpractice was found to be a prominent feature in the majority of articles which portrayed organ donation negatively, suggesting that there is room for improvement in how organ donation is represented in US print media.

- By David Metcalfe.