Canadian newspaper coverage on harm reduction featuring bereaved mothers: A mixed methods analysis

Morris R.N. Heather, T. Cameron Wild, Marina Giovannoni, Rebecca Haines-Saah, Jakob Koziel, Petra Schulz, Hauwa Bwala, Diane Kunyk, Tania Bubela, Elaine Hyshka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A growing body of evidence suggests that news media which includes a sympathetic portrayal of a mother bereaved by substance use can increase public support for harm reduction initiatives. However, the extent to which such news media coverage occurs in Canada is unknown, and research has not documented how the news media in Canada covers such stories. We undertook a mixed-method secondary analyses of 5681 Canadian newspaper articles on harm reduction (2000–2016). Quantitative analyses described the volume and content of harm reduction reporting featuring a mother whose child’s death was related to substance use while qualitative thematic analysis provided in-depth descriptions of the discourses underlying such news reporting. Newspaper articles featuring a mother whose child’s death was related to substance use were rarely published (n = 63; 1.1% of total harm reduction media coverage during the study period). Deductive content analysis of these 63 texts revealed that coverage of naloxone distribution (42.9%) and supervised drug consumption services (28.6%) were prioritized over other harm reduction services. Although harm reduction (services or policies) were advocated by the mother in most (77.8%) of these 63 texts, inductive thematic analysis of a subset (n = 52) of those articles revealed that mothers’ advocacy was diminished by newspaper reporting that emphasized their experiences of grief, prioritized individual biographies over structural factors contributing to substance use harms, and created rhetorical divisions between different groups of people who use drugs (PWUD). Bereaved mothers’ advocacy in support of harm reduction programs and services may be minimized in the process of reporting their stories for newspaper readers. Finding ways to report bereaved mothers’ stories in ways that are inclusive of all PWUD while highlighting the role of broad, structural determinants of substance use has the potential to shift public opinion and government support in favour of these life-saving services.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0294608
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume18
Issue number11 November
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

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