Appalachian Kentucky newspapers improved their Obamacare coverage after rollout, but it remained heavily political

Appalachian Kentucky
newspapers gave their readers limited information about the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act in the two months before the Oct. 1 rollout of the law,
and their coverage of it was dominated by opinions of public officials, largely
those opposed to the law. Coverage improved in October, but still left much to
be desired.

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That was the main conclusion of research conducted by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, part of the School of Journalism and
Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, which publishes Kentucky Health News. Columbia Journalism Review mentioned the research in an online story by Deron Lee about lack of Obamacare coverage in rural news media.

The research examined most newspapers in one of the unhealthiest and poorest regions of the country to see how well they were preparing their communities for a huge change in the health-insurance system.  An estimated 640,000 Kentuckians have no health insurance, so “Any news about obtaining it seems like a worthy topic for publication,” said Al Cross, director of the institute. He supervised research by Justin Richter, a student in UK’s Department of Communication.

Appalachian Kentucky
has 54 counties with 61 newspapers; many are small weeklies, and only six are
dailies. Weekly newspapers generally limit their coverage to local news and are
not members of The Associated Press, which provides state and national news.
However, about half the weeklies in Kentucky participate in a story-sharing
service operated by the Kentucky Press Association, and all of them receive
weekly updates from Kentucky Health News, a publication of the institute.

While only about half
of Kentucky weeklies have regular editorial pages, and only a third have regular
editorials (even when broadly defined as a column from the editor or
publisher), about 40 percent of the Obamacare coverage in Kentucky Appalachian
newspapers consisted of opinion columns, usually from politicians or
commentators opposed to the law. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31,
the law was the topic of 40 opinion articles, 49 news stories and 12 press
releases. Many of the news stories reported mainly on opinions delivered by
politicians opposed to the law, such as Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

McConnell figured large in coverage throughout the three-month
period.  About one-fourth of all
Obamacare coverage in Appalachian Kentucky newspapers was about his
opinions, either by publication of a column from him or coverage of his
expression of opinion. During the period, McConnell continued a tour that he said had taken him
to more than 50 Kentucky hospitals in the last three years.  At each stop,
he attacked Obamacare, and that was the subject of six news stories in the
papers examined. Overall, the senator was either a dominant
voice in, or the writer of, 24.5 percent of all stories.

Before the Oct. 1
rollout, 69 percent of news stories were dominated by public officials’
opinions of Obamacare.  In October, that
declined to about 40 percent.  Sources like the Associated
Press, Kentucky Health News, and other sources were used in more than half the
articles published in October.

Overall, a lack of journalistic enterprise was seen in the newspapers.  Four papers showed enterprise by doing their
own stories in advance of the exchange and noting the number or percentage of
people in their counties that were estimated to have no health coverage.

For a detailed report on the study, click here.

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