Title page for ETD etd-04142010-124602

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Barnidge, Matthew Holt
URN etd-04142010-124602
Title Press Independence in Newspaper Coverage of the 2009 Health Care Debate
Degree Master of Mass Communication (M.M.C.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Lawrence, Regina Committee Chair
Kurpius, David Committee Member
Scholl, Rosanne Committee Member
  • newspapers
  • procedural autonomy
  • content autonomy
  • sourcing
  • norms and routines
  • indexing theory
  • press independence
Date of Defense 2010-03-30
Availability unrestricted
This study examines press independence from the government in the 2009 national health care debate. Through a content analysis examining source expressions, or the words journalists attribute to various people in the news, the study captures the essence of the discourse represented in the news about the debate. This paper also outlines a distinction between various types of autonomy, and offers a new conceptualization of independence. Procedural autonomy, which is autonomy in journalistic norms and routines, does not necessarily result in content autonomy, which is autonomy of viewpoints expressed in the news. In other words, if non-governmental sources say substantially similar things to governmental sources, then the news content is not independent from government influence. This study determines, therefore, whether there is a substantial difference among the various viewpoints expressed by different types of news sources. Using as its framework the indexing theory, which posits that journalists will tie the range of news discourse the governmental elite opinion, this study determines whether some discourse falls outside the range of elite opinion. The results indicate that while the press did heavily focus on governmental elite debate in the health care debate, they made a moderate effort to bring in non-governmental voices and views. Despite this, however, those voices did not represent substantially different views. The exceptions to this rule were experts and, at least in the contentious months of late summer, popular voices.

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