Quantifying risk amplification processes: a multi-level approach
Presents the findings of a project to examine media coverage of risk-related stories using three complementary approaches. The first approach was a rudimentary analysis of words used by the media. The second adopted a higher level of analysis, focussing on the writing style of journalists who made significant contributions to particular stories. The third used an experimental simulation to examine some of the key ingredients of stories that capture the public mood. Risk perception research suggests that individual risk estimations are based largely on contextual factors, such as the ability to influence risks, familiarity with the risk, and the catastrophic potential associated with a risk event. Factors at work could be the incongruity of elements in a story, and whether hazards are perceived to be external or internal, familiar or unfamiliar, beneficial or not beneficial. The channels of communication that pass on information about risks play a particularly important role in shaping group and individual views on risk. Most people learn about risk indirectly through various channels, such as the media and informal networks of friends and associates. Arguably, the most important of these is the mass media, which plays a key role in setting the agenda, informing the public, and providing entertainment. The findings of the project bring out changes in language used by the media in qualitative, emotional and rationality terms as stories build, peak and decline. The research indicates that it may be at topic, rather than general level, that processes of amplification and attenuation of risk need to be examined.
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