The spread of pseudo-events: Covering the Influenza A(H1N1) Pandemic

This was my first conference presentation as a doctoral student. 

Boorstin sounded the alarm in 1961: Staged realities, or what he called pseudo-events, were flooding the American press. In a content analysis of 200 online news articles on the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, this study sought to apply his concept to the coverage of a real health crisis. It found that news articles based on pseudo-events slightly outnumber those based on spontaneous events. But establishment sources, like government officials, that previous literature showed to be the most active stagers of events, were also heavily quoted in spontaneous events. This study found an interesting trend: News articles on spontaneous events were more common before and after a community outbreak. However, during the outbreak itself, there were more articles based on pseudo-events. Though staged and mediated events have been frowned upon, the findings of this study point to a value of pseudo-events. The staging of events can also be a response to a real need. In times of crises, people need information not only to understand what is going on but also to feel reassured and prepared by feeling they are adequately informed.

Paper presented at the International Communication Association 2011 Conference in Boston.

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