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Annexes électroniques de l’article « Journalists and Science. Boundary-making in the media coverage of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine’s safety in France »

Jeremy K. Ward

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1En complément des analyses présentées dans l’article, nous avons souhaité mettre à la disposition des lecteurs un certain nombre de documents supplémentaires qui ne pouvaient pas être intégrés ou joints à sa version papier.

Annex: Systematic analysis of the media coverage of the controversy over the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine

2To analyse the media coverage of the issue of vaccine safety I followed the dominant approach in communication studies: framing analysis. Framing analysis is a form of content analysis grounded in an understanding of the concrete work of journalists which consists mainly in making sense of information by setting it against the backdrop of wider issues and cultural tropes that are already familiar to the audience (frames). This framing of an issue is apparent not only in the ideas that are presented in a given piece. It is also apparent in the style, narrative and format chosen to present this sense-making. For a more in-depth presentation of the theoretical underpinnings and methodological issues of frame analysis, see (Scheufele, 1999). Analysing the frames mobilised to make sense of a given issue therefore means focusing less on the actual information reported by journalists and more on the formats, styles and larger background mobilised by journalists to make the issue “interesting” to their audience.

3 My analysis departs somewhat from standard framing analysis applied to media content. Indeed, most analysts study a specific news cycle and attribute one or several frames to each journalistic format they analyse (article, video piece…). The issue of the safety of the 2009 pandemic vaccine was part of a wider news cycle (pandemic flu). This means that many contents pertaining to this issue were actually part of pieces dedicated to the flu in general. These small snippets were particularly meaningful, as we will see later. So, I decided to include all pieces dealing with the subject in my sample even if the issue was only very marginally broached. After reading each piece, I attributed to each of these pieces one or several of the 7 frames I identified during this period. But, to reflect the discrepancies in volume dedicated to the subject, I also attributed to each piece one of four classes of volume: minuscule (less than 3 sentences), small (between three and 12 sentences), middle (two to three paragraphs or less than 2 minutes of video but more than 12 sentences) and big (more than three paragraphs or more than 2 minutes of video). The application of this scheme was not completely rigid. For instance, in some cases I took into consideration the size of the paragraphs and of the articles/video pieces in order to control for differences in the overall style of these different media.

4 The seven frames at the core of my coding scheme were built after extensive consultation of the database and after having conducted interviews with a sample of journalists. These seven frames reflect different degrees of proximity towards orthodox or heterodox sources but also different conceptions of the journalist’s role in the situation of the pandemic. I will present them from the frames that are the most “critical” and closest to heterodox sources to the most “uncritical” and closest to orthodox sources.

  • Scandal: The first frame is one where the journalist presents the issue of vaccine safety as a “scandal”. This entails direct accusations of deliberate wrongdoing on behalf of the people and institutions in charge of handling the pandemic at the core of the piece and a more vindictive style. In this standard frame in the domain of politics, journalists explicitly side with heterodox sources and present their discourse as their own (Lemieux, 2001). Editorials or “dossiers” dedicated to “revelations” are formats typically associated with this framing

  • Critique: In the second frame, the piece is still centred on critiques and the heterodox sources that produce them. However, journalists don’t explicitly side with their heterodox source. The traditional norms of distanciation between the journalist and her or his sources (quotes, use of the terms « alleged », « according to »…) are respected. However, the content of the piece remains purely critical. The format of the interview is typical of this format.

  • Controversy: The third frame is the most classically associated with modern journalism. The journalist presents the issue in the form of a controversy pitting orthodox and heterodox sources and discourses against each other. In doing so, they show their distance towards both types of sources.

  • Uncertainty: The fourth frame is actually almost an absence of framing and focuses on the question of the safety of vaccines without evoking either orthodox arguments on the issue or heterodox ones. Journalists simply evoke the fact that there is an uncertainty or a set of “facts” suggesting that there might be. In some of these pieces, especially the ones focused on pharmacovigilance reports in November, journalists only report the facts following the classical « who? What? When? Where? Why? How? » model of factual reporting. Often, this took the form of a simple reproduction of the AFP newsbrief on the subject. This could also take the form of quick references to the issue in the form of questions such as « but will the vaccine be safe and effective? ».

  • Public opinion: The fifth framing consists in presenting the issue of the safety of the vaccine as a phenomenon in public opinion. Vaccine safety concerns become interesting not necessarily or only because they reflect a real medical issue but also because they affect the success of the vaccination campaign. Journalists therefore turn to “the public” for criticism and doubts about the safety of the vaccine rather than to the nonprofits, politicians, bloggers, etc. who produced these arguments in the first place. This took the form of articles focused on commenting the results of opinion polls on the subject of vaccination intentions, pieces on comments found on chatrooms and other websites, videos of people in the street answering the journalist’s questions, etc. These « public perceptions » were often set against the backdrop of more global cultural transformations: individualisation, loss of trust in public authorities, etc. To do so, journalists did not only turn to the public as a source of information, they also mobilised a different type of expert: social scientists, economists and psychologists. They were asked to shed light on this state of public opinion. This framing was particularly present when the vaccination campaign started at the end of October.

  • Bad influence: During this period, many pieces have been written to denounce some form of vaccine criticism or another. It could take the form of editorials denouncing “the antivaccine movement” and advocating for a defence of the principle of vaccination against « anti-science » tendencies. It also took the form of pieces dedicated to « rumors » and « conspiracy theories » which focus on the more exotic forms of vaccine criticism that could be found on the internet. This framing often complemented the previous one, suggesting that the irrationality of the public was due to the bad influence of these scientifically and politically illegitimate actors. With this sixth form of framing, journalists side with more orthodox sources and delegitimize vaccine criticism.

  • Expert answers: The final frame is the exact reverse of the critique frame. Journalists only present the orthodox « answers » to vaccine-critical arguments. This often took the form of interviews with public health officials or medical experts involved in the handling of the flu. But it also took the form of a kind of service journalism where the writer gives direct advice to its readership and sums up governmental recommendations in a simple Q and A format. Pieces following this framing often complemented pieces dealing with public opinion’s « fears ».

  • 1 When several papers were published on a given day, I chose to put them on the adjacent increments. (...)

5 This double coding (size and frames) allows for a simple visualisation of my data for each media I included in my sample along a time frieze. The frieze runs from April until the end of the pandemic flu news cycle at the end of January. Each article or video included in my sample can be placed on this chronological frieze with daily increments for simplicity1. To represent the volume dedicated to the issue of vaccine safety in each piece, the frieze is 12 increments thick. Each piece is therefore represented as a 12 increments’ high bar placed on a given day in the frieze. Depending on how much of the piece is dedicated to the issue of vaccine safety, a great or small proportion of the bar is filled with colour:

  • Minuscule: 2 increments,

  • Small: 4 increments

  • Middle: 8 increments

  • Big: all increments (12)

6Each frame is associated to a given colour (see table 1)

Table 1: the seven frames used by French journalists to cover the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine

Table 1: the seven frames used by French journalists to cover the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine

Since several frames can be included in a given article, the number of increments filled with each colour depended on its relative importance in the article

Table 2: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from April to August 2009

Table 2: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from April to August 2009

Table 3: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from September 2009 to January 2010

Table 3: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from September 2009 to January 2010
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Notes

1 When several papers were published on a given day, I chose to put them on the adjacent increments. This choice means that in the tables 1 and 2, the pieces can have been published up to 4 days before or later than when they are presented as being published.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: the seven frames used by French journalists to cover the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine
Légende Since several frames can be included in a given article, the number of increments filled with each colour depended on its relative importance in the article
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sociologie/docannexe/image/6070/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Table 2: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from April to August 2009
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sociologie/docannexe/image/6070/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 332k
Titre Table 3: Chronology of the French mainstream media’s coverage of the safety of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine from September 2009 to January 2010
URL http://journals.openedition.org/sociologie/docannexe/image/6070/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 409k
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Référence électronique

Jeremy K. Ward, « Annexes électroniques de l’article « Journalists and Science. Boundary-making in the media coverage of the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine’s safety in France » », Sociologie [En ligne], N° 4, vol. 10 |  2019, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2019, consulté le 26 janvier 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/sociologie/6070

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Jeremy K. Ward

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