Discourse of 'distortion' and health and medical news reports: a genre analysis perspective
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The advent of medical journalism was initially felt to be an answer to the problem of communicating health and medical information to the public. However, currently, there is a concern among scientists with the way the media, newspapers in particular, communicate health and medical information. The concern of the medical community in particular and of the scientific community in general is that newspapers ‘distort’ health and medical information. In order to deal with this ‘perceived’ problem, scientists adopt a mechanical view and propose to solve it by issuing guidelines for journalists to follow when writing health and medical news. Close investigation of journalistic practice shows that many of the proposed guidelines are already present in journalistic practice, and yet, the concern for ‘distortion’ remains. The overall aim of the thesis is to contribute to this issue. Adopting an Applied Linguistics perspective, more specifically, using the discourse analytic methodology of Genre Analysis, the thesis demonstrates that Health and Medical News Reports are first and foremost news stories and that the proposed guidelines fail to achieve the envisaged changes precisely because they seem to be ignorant of this essential reality. In order to reach this conclusion, Genre Analysis is applied to different types of texts with a view to comparing their structures. Some of the text types used have already been described in the literature, but others are analysed for the first time in this thesis. Thus, comparison is made between Health and Medical Research Articles and Health and Medical News Reports, between Popularised Health and Medical Texts and Health and Medical News Reports, between News Texts and Health and Medical News Reports and between Health and Medical Press Releases and Health and Medical News Reports. Genre Analysis shows that Health and Medical News Reports are first and foremost news stories and, therefore, that the discourse of ‘distortion’ is somewhat ‘misguided’. However, because of its nature as a structural analysis, Genre Analysis leaves one important question unanswered, namely the ‘why’ of the discourse of distortion. Although it is beyond the scope of this thesis to investigate this question, in the thesis, it is indicated that a more context-sensitive analysis, using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) for example, could fruitfully be pursued. This thesis draws on four types of data. The main data set consists of Health and Medical News Reports published in The Herald and The Guardian between April and May 2007, where possible, corresponding press releases were collected. Email interviews were conducted with authors whose research was reported in the two newspapers. Finally, ethnographic observation of newsrooms and face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted with journalists who wrote the reports over a period of one week.