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Science Coverage in Popular and Elite Newspapers

Gunver Vestergaard  

A qualitative and quantitative content analysis of Danish science news in the popular and elite press 2012 Numerous scholars have emphasized how the popular press is overlooked in content analyses of science news. Still, most studies only include elite papers for different reasons such as the perception that the elite press is agenda-setting or simply contain more science coverage. In a completed study of Danish science news I compared two tabloid newspapers with six elite papers. I collected all online and print science news published in a specific November week in 2012. In total 366 news items. The coding included quantity of science coverage, word length, number of interview subjects, trigger event, references to scientific journals, geographical origin, scientific field, and originality. In a supplementary qualitative analysis I examined language style in an attempt to differentiate the attitudes towards science. The results show that the tabloids included as much or more science coverage as elite papers, especially online. All in all, sources and triggers for science news did not differ signifcantly between popular and elite science news. However, online popular news contained more references to scientific journal articles and was more often triggered by an international event. The two tabloids also favored health news, whereas elite papers prefered the humanities and social sciences. The qualitative analysis revealed how popular papers de-emphazised the authority of scientific institutions and presented science in a more casual and informal tone. I conclude that popular papers cover science substantially and approach many of the same stories and sources as the quality press but present them in a more informal manner to satisfy tabloid readers. The certain tabloid culture of questioning the establishment also results in a more egalitarian coverage. I speculate that the medialization of science push sensationally framed science content towards the popular papers, which combined with tabloid culture results in an extensive and egalitarian coverage aligned with trends predicted to follow from medialization. Combined, popular papers seem more responsive to the features of medialization than elite papers.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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