abstract

A 3-yr content analysis of all items dealing with earthquakes in six major Los Angeles newspapers and a review of television and radio treatment of earthquake topics in the same period, coupled with periodic surveys of popular understanding and attitudes toward the earthquake threat following announcement of the southern California uplift (Palmdale Bulge), lead to the identification of four media problems that contributed to the often erratic treatment of earthquake threat. First is the problem of newsworthiness, determining when and how to feature discussions of the continuing earthquake threat in the absence of either dramatic events or mobilized public controversy. Second is the problem of finding sources to provide a steady flow of material for use in preparing news items, in the absence of well-organized interest groups, especially those concerned with individual, household, and neighborhood earthquake preparedness. Third is the dilemma of how to balance the needs for alarm and reassurance, shocking people out of lethargy into action on the one hand versus trying to minimize unproductive anxiety and community disruption on the other hand. The fourth problem is communicating science when nonscientific world views are prevalent and merged to the point of confusion with scientific world views in popular thinking.

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