Perpetuating Stereotypes In News Media

Elise Anguizola Assaf, CSUF

Our group had the opportunity to interview Dr. Assaf, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at California State University Fullerton. She is an award-winning public relations practitioner that has worked with clients in the fields of healthcare and lifestyle. Our interview is focused on her research paper, Perpetuating Stereotypes: Newspaper headlines covering stories of individuals with mental health diagnoses. Assaf’s conference paper analyzes mental health diagnosis topics in online news headlines, as well as uncovers news agendas and misrepresentations of health topics in media. During the interview, we discussed general conceptual and practical ideas about the research.

Assaf focused on the news publication, The LA Times. Her findings revealed the stereotypes of mental health in the media. One might ask themselves if the publication that was analyzed had any political bias and that’s why the mental health stigma was present. Assaf mentioned she has an understanding of the publication in terms of their stance on politics and does not think the LA Times has a political leaning bias or, has at least not publicly come out and claimed so. Assaf’s research consisted of the usage of content analysis. With her enjoyment of content analysis, selecting this research tool was an easy choice. Assaf believes content analysis aligns with characteristics such as language, stories, and word choice. According to Kerlinger’s definition of content analysis, it is a systematic, objective, and quantitative research method. However, many people consider it a mixed-method approach because it tells a story. If analyzed under this lens, Assaf’s research consisted of both qualitative and quantitative methods which were required by the specific research question. Qualitative can evolve and result in a change of questions throughout the study whereas quantitative sticks to one topic for the entirety of the research. The benefit of a mix-method approach is the high chance of obtaining information from both research methods. Assaf does not like quantitative research and believes the numbers she gathered do not equate to quantitative research and are more qualitative. 

When looking at Assaf’s research we saw she focused on one publication for her research and not multiple posts to see similar aspects. She concluded that she did not look at other publications of multiple online newspapers due to the time and manner of the study. Since it was a college research study, she had limited time to conduct a research process and successfully look at other perspectives and compare her results to multiple online newspapers looking at mental health. Assaf explained that the scope of the project was limited and was not intended to become a research study. We also saw the study had a high sample size and considered if any sample errors would have evolved in her study when she was conducting her research. Assaf explained since it was a public publication that there were no sample errors when doing her research. However, if there was a sample error they would not be able to see it if it was to show later. She explained that when working with online publications take it at face value. This is because there are no face-to-face interactions therefore, it can cause some skewing to happen in her research study. We have concluded that doing a research study on an online source for research is to take it with a grain of salt. This is because sample sizes and results can change over time due to the publication taking it down later and not having accurate results. Therefore it is better to do face-to-face evaluations with your research to get the best results for your study. 

As a group, we enjoyed reading Assaf’s research and found it really telling how the media depicts mental health. Looking towards the future we asked Assaf if we were to use her study to make our own, what would she like to see be further researched. Assaf alluded to the fact that the study can be easily replicated. Just replicating her study can show so much more information because news articles may have changed from 2017 and replicating it can show these changes. Since we are college students with limited resources, Assaf also mentions perhaps looking at more accessible publications such as The Daily Titan or other local publications and looking at the whole publication and the photos that make evoke emotional responses as opposed to just one article. 

When asked about further research on why mental health diagnoses headlines were not published in the health sections, Assaf responded that there are many methods for addressing this issue. Further steps include extensive interviews with writers and editors asking the whys of the story. A question asked may be discussing why there was no health reporter when producing these stories. An additional question we asked Assaf discusses the general topic of mental health and its relation to the knowledge and power theory and news media. Assaf has an understanding of the topic and explains that as people become more aware of mental health, they will have more power in terms of knowledge. However, it all depends on the gatekeepers, such as the editors and producers, to make these decisions. Assaf concludes with her hope that news media will change, but only time will tell. 

All in all Assaf’s research shows a clear understanding of research methods like content analysis. Using content analysis can show a story through the analysis process and reveal hidden agendas or themes, as Assaf’s study does. Her methods showed that mental health needs a better representation and voice in the media. If studies were to be conducted in the future on this topic it would be interesting to see if anything has changed since Assaf’s 2017 study. 

Interview with Dr. Assaf

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