Thursday, April 28, 2016

Buried and Forgotten: Newspaper coverage of workplace injury

Today is the National Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed and injured on the job. There are events in both Calgary and Edmonton. As it happens, two more Alberta workers were killed yesterday.

To coincide with the Day of Mourning, the Parkland Institute has issued a report that I co-authored with my colleague Jason Foster entitled “Buried and Forgotten: Newspaper coverage of workplace injury and death in Alberta.”

The report notes that newspaper coverage of workplace injuries and fatalities is skewed in a number of way. Women’s injuries are almost never reported. Most newspaper reports are about fatalities, which represent only a small fraction of overall injuries.

The report also identifies three media frames (or story templates) that almost all newspaper reports of injury fit into: the injury is under investigation, is a human tragedy, or is before the courts. These templates create a meta-narrative, wherein injuries are isolated events that happen to “others,” and for which no one is responsible (except maybe the worker). This, in turn, suggests that the public need not be concerned about workplace safety.

Both the quantitative and qualitative analysis set out in the report are validated in the coverage of yesterday’s fatalities. The events are fatalities that happened to men and that are under investigation

What this report tells us is that, to the degree that we rely upon media reports to help shape our views of occupational injury, our views are likely skewed. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of reporter—they are workers who face structural pressures to report certain news items in certain ways.

Instead, it suggests that there is a greater role for government in making workers aware of the extent and nature of workplace injury.

-- Bob Barnetson

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