Background: Worldwide, fire-related burns are a major cause of unintentional injury, morbidity and mortality, with the majority of deaths occurring in developing countries. In the US, as in other countries, most fatal fires occur in the home. Effective prevention strategies for residential fires are, however, currently underutilized. The news media is one available communication channel to promote such strategies, and analyzing current news coverage is a first step towards incorporating media advocacy into injury prevention efforts related to residential fires.
Methods: Four daily newspapers circulating widely in Maryland were monitored for 1 year. Articles describing residential fires were coded for measures of prominence, content and frame. Analysis focused on measures of issue newsworthiness, reporting of causation and consequences of fires, and inclusion of public health context and conveyance of prevention messages.
Results: The data indicate that fires are newsworthy, with 374 relevant news articles in a 1-year period, 32% of which appear on the first page of a section. Coverage generally concerned recent local fire events. Most articles discussed the consequences of fires (88%), and identified a causal factor (58%). Only 36%, however, included prevention information, and less than one-quarter set residential fires in a public health context.
Conclusion: The newsworthiness of residential fires provides a clear opportunity for widespread communication around injury prevention. Improving media advocacy will entail framing discussion of recent fire events in such a way as to support inclusion of prevention strategies and a public health context in news coverage.
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Competing interests: None.