Cultivation theory posits that habitual exposure to TV influences beliefs about the general nature of the world (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980
). People who are heavily exposed to TV are more likely than those with less exposure to adhere to TV’s version of social reality (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shanahan, 2002
). In general, most studies find a small but significant association between TV viewing and beliefs about a variety of topics, including crime, gender roles, and political views (Shanahan & Morgan, 1999).
Cultivation analysis refers to the research methodology typically applied in cultivation studies. While a few studies have focused on TV portrayals of doctors and health (e.g., Chory-Assad & Tamborini, 2003
; Gerbner, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1982
), cultivation analysis has been applied most frequently to the topic of TV violence and perceptions of the degree of violence in the world (Gerbner et al., 1980
). Cultivation analysis has two primary components: (1) content analysis to identify overarching patterns of TV content (e.g., incidence of TV violence), and (2) survey data analysis to assess associations between TV viewing and, in the case of TV violence, perceptions of real-world crime. Perceptions of crime are also often compared to local crime rates in violence-related cultivation analyses (e.g., Hetsroni & Tukachinsky, 2006
While Gerbner and colleagues (2002)
acknowledge that different types of programs, genres, or channels are likely to have different types of short-term effects on audiences, they also articulate their belief that all TV programs contribute to “massive, long-term, and common exposure of large and heterogeneous publics to centrally produced, mass-distributed, and repetitive systems of stories” (p. 47). Nevertheless, several authors have focused on the specific cultivation effects of TV news broadcasts (Gross & Aday, 2003
; Lowry, Nio, & Leitner, 2003
; Romer, Jamieson, & Aday, 2003
). Most of these analyses found significant associations between TV news exposure and crime perceptions. For instance, Romer et al. (2003)
found that local TV news viewing increased fear of crime and concern about violence. Lowry et al. (2003)
found that network TV news coverage of a 1994 crime scare accounted for most of an unprecedented increase, between 1992 and 1994, in perceptions of crime as the most important problem facing the US. Likewise, Gross and Aday (2003)
found that local TV news increased the view that crime was the most important problem facing the Washington, D.C. area, although they found no association between local TV news and personal fear of crime victimization.
Recent extensions of cultivation theory, with a focus on differences between media source content and audience, are particularly relevant to understanding sources of fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention. More Americans report getting information from local TV news than any other news source including national network newscasts, cable outlets, TV news magazines (such as Dateline or 60 Minutes), national and local newspapers, talk radio, and the internet (Fowler, Goldstein, Hale, & Kaplan, 2007
; Pew Center, 2006
). Furthermore, in part because of the focus on mass ratings rather than the affluent, educated demographics sought by newspapers (Kaniss, 1991), local TV news reaches a systematically different audience than many other news sources (Fowler, Goldstein, & Shah, 2008
). In comparison to regular news consumers of national or print sources who tend to be older, more educated, and more knowledgeable than most of the population, habitual local TV news viewers (54 percent of the American public) tend to look more like the average American (Pew Center, 2006
). In other words, local TV messages are not only viewed by more individuals but they also reach a socioeconomically diverse audience.
In light of the scope and breadth of their audience, local TV news stories have the potential to be very influential. Studies of local TV coverage of crime, politics, and health, however, have typically concluded that its content suffers from sensationalism and frequently contains little substance (Gilliam & Iyengar, 2000
; Fowler et al., 2007
; Pribble, Goldstein, Fowler, Greenberg, Noel, & Howell, 2006
). While these studies suggest that local TV coverage of cancer may be detrimental, the specific role of local TV news in shaping beliefs about cancer prevention has not been addressed. Recent content analyses of cancer news have not differentiated between local and national TV (Slater, Long, Bettinghaus, & Reineke, 2008
), have focused exclusively on print (Stryker, Emmons, & Viswanath, 2007
), or have examined only a small set of local TV media markets without making comparisons to other types of media (Wang & Gantz, 2007
). In light of differences in the audience of local TV relative to print (Potter & Kurpius, 2000
) and intense competitive pressure in the broadcast news arena that may lead to further differences in content (e.g., Zaller, 1999
), greater attention should be paid to how both local TV and newspaper coverage may contribute to fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention.
Hypotheses related to cultivation theory
To this end, we offer three hypotheses about local TV cancer news content relative to local newspapers and a fourth hypothesis about the relationship between local TV news viewing and fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention. News stories about cancer causes tend to be sensationalistic because they often focus on causes that (1) are new or controversial yet (2) are encountered by a sizeable proportion of the audience in their daily lives (Russell, 1999
; Taubes, 1995
). The intense competitive pressure in local TV is thought to be a culprit for particularly low quality news stories and high sensationalism relative to newspapers (e.g., Zaller, 1999
). These factors lead to our first hypothesis:
H1: Local TV news coverage will be more likely than local newspaper coverage to report on the causes of cancer.
There are large resource constraints among local TV stations, producing fewer reporters for TV news relative to newspapers (Potter & Kurpius, 2000
). Given the lack of resources, shorter deadlines for broadcasting stories and shorter time for presenting detailed information, TV journalists may also be more prone to covering research press releases about cancer research.
H2: Local TV news coverage will be more likely than local newspaper coverage to cover reports of new cancer research.
The limited timeframe for conveying information in a TV news segment relative to a newspaper article should also decrease the likelihood that local TV cancer news stories will provide follow-up information to the audience. Follow-up information provides details that could enable audiences to follow up on an action encouraged by the story. A lack of such information would prevent the viewer from being able to find source material behind the news stories in order to assess the credibility of scientific evidence about a cancer cause or research study.
H3: Local TV news coverage will be less likely than local newspaper coverage to include follow-up information about cancer or cancer research.
Cancer research studies that make the news often focus on novel or controversial findings (Russell, 1999
; Stryker, 2002
). Repeated exposure to stories that highlight uncertain cancer causes, particularly those identified by single research studies that have not yet been replicated, seems particularly likely to engender the belief that everything causes cancer. Cancer cause stories also carry implicit information about ways to prevent cancer (avoid the cause). Thus repeated exposure to stories about cancer causes may also contribute to a sense that there are so many recommendations about preventing cancer, it is hard to know which ones to follow. These effects would be exacerbated by a lack of follow-up information, where a viewer is not given adequate information to investigate the information’s source or credibility. Consequently, the extent to which a news source’s cancer coverage tends to focus on cancer causes, summarize cancer research (particularly studies about novel or controversial causes), and omit follow-up information should predict the extent to which exposure to that source engenders fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention. Based on this proposition and our hypothesized patterns of coverage, we expect viewers of local TV news to be most likely to hold fatalistic beliefs.
H4: Local TV news viewing will be positively associated with an index of fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention, controlling for socio-demographic factors.
Contributions to cultivation research
This paper shares cultivation analysis’s focus on cumulative effects of exposure to TV content with specific attention to possible effects of local TV news. Although we do not directly compare viewer perceptions to real-world prevalence of, say, crime, we do assume that views about cancer prevention need not be fatalistic. The reality is that everything does not cause cancer, and major institutions such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and American Cancer Society (ACS) have made clear recommendations about effective ways to reduce cancer risk. Thus, agreement with the fatalistic beliefs that everything causes cancer or that there are too many recommendations about cancer prevention constitutes a discrepancy between viewer perceptions and the reality of cancer prevention.