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The Woodhull Study Revisited

Nurses’ Representation in Health News Media

Diversity is key to good journalism in a pluralistic society — whether diversity of topics, journalists or sources. Women continue to be underrepresented in newsrooms (24 percent) and as expert sources in news stories (36 percent). Although women are included as sources in 48 percent of health news stories, the Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media: Health Care’s Invisible Partner, published in 1998, found that nurses were identified as sources in only 4 percent of quotes or other sourcing in health news stories in leading print national and regional newspapers and 1 percent in weeklies and industry publications such as Modern Healthcare in September of 1997. Nurses were never cited in health news stories on policy and were rarely identified in photos accompanying the articles. Named after Nancy Woodhull, a founding editor of USA Today, the study raised awareness that the voices and perspectives of the nation’s largest group of health professionals — now 3.5 million, almost 90 percent of whom are women — were largely invisible even when they would have been germane to the story. 

Twenty years later, are nurses used as sources more often in health news stories in print media? This three-phase study proposes to answer the following questions: 

  • Phase 1. Are nurses represented as sources and identified in photos in health news stories in public and trade print publications with greater frequency than in 1997? 

  • Phase 2. What do health journalists perceive to be the barriers and facilitators to using nurses as sources in new stories? 

  • Phase 3. Are schools of nursing using social media to highlight the expertise of their faculty? 

Phase 1 was recently published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship and phase 2 was published in the American Journal of Nursing.

Watch the May 8, 2018, announcement of the preliminary findings below.

Preliminary Findings

Women underrepresented as expert sources in news stories

Phase 1

This phase sought to replicate the original Woodhull study as closely as possible. We used the Nexis database and Webhose, a web crawling service, to collect health care stories from the same sources that the original study used, excluding those that are no longer in print. Our final sample consisted of 537 articles from seven newspapers, three newsmagazines, and three health care industry publications published in September of 2017. We analyzed each article for topic, type of article, references to health care professionals in the article, valence of those references and gender of the professional referenced. 

 


 

 

Infographic: Barriers to the use of diverse sources in health reporting

Phase 2

Barriers keeping journalists from nurses:

  • Journalists don’t fully understand the range of nurses’ roles, work and education. 

  • Journalists often don’t know how to find nurses to interview and have limited time to track them down. 

  • Editorial biases, policies and processes can get in the way of using nurses as sources. 

Barriers keeping nurses from journalists:

  • Communications staff of health care organizations and universities aren’t offering nurses as sources unless journalists ask for them. 

  • Nurses and their associations aren’t strategic about engaging journalists. 

 


 

 

Most recent tweets from the public Twitter accounts of 47 of the top schools of nursing

Phase 3

This phase examined how schools of nursing use Twitter to position nursing faculty and researchers as experts. The most recent 3,200 tweets from the public Twitter accounts of each of 47 of the top 50 schools of nursingvi from September 29, 2016 through February 22, 2018 were extracted and analyzed using dominant hashtags and were coded as either inward-facing (intended to invite attention from/interaction with nurses, members of the university/school community, or attendees at a nursing conference or Twitter chat) or outward-facing (intended to invite attention from/interaction with people outside of the nursing and university/school). The follower lists of all 47 schools were also extracted and analyzed. 

Download Research Brief

Meet the Research Team

Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN — Principal investigator, Senior policy service professor for the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement

Barbara Glickstein, MPH, MS, RN — Co-investigator, Director of Communications and Media Projects for the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement

Laura Nixon, MPH — Senior media researcher for Berkeley Media Studies Group

Kristi Westphaln, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC — Senior fellow for the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement

Kimberly D. Acquaviva, PhD, MSW, CSE — Professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing

Read more about their involvement with the Woodhull Study Revisited in this research team brief.

Learn More

Read more on the study's preliminary findings in the research brief and data visualizations available for download.

Download Resource Kit