Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Berkeley Media Studies Group

BMSG is dedicated to expanding advocates’ ability to improve the systems and structures that determine health and accelerate movement toward racial and health equity. BMSG has extensive experience in research, training, and technical assistance related to communicating about challenging social, political, and economic issues, that shape health.

Program Director(s)

Lori Dorfman

Program Site



Addressing Digital and Targeted Marketing To Support Equity and Foster A Culture of Health

With support from RWJF, BMSG, the Center for Digital Democracy, Color Of Change, and UnidosUS are coordinating action and advocacy to reduce—and eventually eliminate—junk food marketing targeted at low-income children and youth of color. We are monitoring industry tactics, engaging industry in dialogue, developing best practices for talking about the issue using a health equity lens, and creating advocacy campaigns to move the needle on both self-regulation and state and local policy change.

Advancing Health Equity Through Housing

BMSG is honored to work with The Kresge Foundation’s Advancing Health Equity Through Housing Initiative which will identify community-driven practices that connect the housing and health sectors to preserve and increase the supply of stable housing to improve the health and well-being of families and communities around the country. BMSG is conducting media analysis and providing strategic communication trainings and tools that will support grantees in advancing equity-focused solutions.

Bay Area Soda Tax Debates: Media Analysis and Lessons for Advocates

With support from the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University, the Voices for Healthy Kids program, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, and the UC Berkeley Food Institute, Berkeley Media Studies Group examined Bay Area soda tax debates and the use of social media by the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign, which helped create momentum for Berkeley’s success in passing the nation’s first soda tax.

Changing the Dialogue on Abortion

With the Sea Change Program, BMSG examined media coverage of abortion through a new lens — stigma. Our research found coverage perpetuates stigma with inflammatory language; few firsthand stories from people who have had abortions; and the near absence of unbiased, scientifically accurate information about the safety and prevalence of abortion. Our study provides guidance to advocates on building relationships with journalists, honing storytelling and effectively monitoring the news media.

Expanding the Narrative on Gun Violence

The polarized conversation on gun violence elevates mass shootings, while everyday gun violence—including domestic violence, suicide and community violence—is left in the dark. With the Hope and Heal Fund, BMSG is analyzing the current narrative on gun violence in California so we can widen the frame to highlight community-based solutions and demonstrate how we can work together to address this epidemic, rather than leaving people feeling helpless and, therefore, unwilling to engage and act.

Message Development for Sexual Violence Prevention Advocates

BMSG worked with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RALIANCE, a national partnership dedicated to ending sexual violence in one generation, to find effective ways to include prevention in the narrative about sexual violence. We developed message and framing guides that combine an analysis of media coverage of sexual violence with direction about which messages can withstand opposition and support prevention policy. BMSG now conducts trainings for advocates based on these guides.

Rhode Island Department of Health: Building Social Justice and Health Equity Communications Capacity

With funding from The Kresge Foundation, The Praxis Project and BMSG supported the Rhode Island Department of Health to find ways to achieve health justice and racial equity by being more intentional about integrating a deep social justice lens into the department’s internal and external work. Praxis and BMSG provided in-person trainings and long-term technical assistance focused on communicating effectively internally with staff and externally with partners, the media, and residents.

Strategic Communication to Support Young Men of Color Who Are Survivors of Violence

BMSG provides strategic communication support to the national Healing Justice Alliance, which is committed to helping communities address violence as a public health issue and provide culturally appropriate services to young men of color who are survivors of violence. BMSG conducts media advocacy training, TA, and convenes a public education committee to help HJA build the capacity it needs to change the narrative around violence to ensure that all survivors receive the care they need.

Strengthening Racial and Health Equity Communications and Organizational Capacity in California

Through funding from The California Endowment and the Blue Shield Foundation of California, BMSG is working with the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, and the San Joaquin Valley Public Health Consortium to support local health departments and their partners communicate more effectively about racial and health inequities and build their organizational capacity to advance equity in communities across the state.

Here's How We're Making a Difference

Advocating for Companies to Stop Advertising Junk Food to Kids

In May of 2015, Dairy Queen dropped soda from its kids’ meals. This action, an important step in reducing food and beverage marketing to kids, came after continued pressure from parents, advocates, and members of the Food Marketing Workgroup, coordinated in part by PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group. Dairy Queen now joins McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Panera Bread and Chipotle in not offering soda as its default beverage for children.

The Food Marketing Workgroup is a network of more than 130 organizations and academic experts working with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantees and the American Heart Association to reverse childhood obesity by focusing its advocacy on competitive foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and food marketing. BMSG provides technical assistance, resources, and avenues for both online and on-the-ground advocacy around the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, food marketing in schools, the predatory marketing of junk food and soda to low-income children and children of color, and more.

Bringing Together Stakeholders to Explore How Industry Marketing Undermines the Health of Feeding Infants and Toddlers

Policies that increase breastfeeding rates and reduce the frequency of formula feeding can significantly impact maternal and child health outcomes. Through research and stakeholder coordination, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) worked to clarify and elevate research and action steps that would increase rates of sustained, exclusive breastfeeding and healthy toddler feeding.

BMSG, with support from other project partners, planned and facilitated a convening to engage stakeholders from across the country in identifying research questions and exploring opportunities for action around infant formula marketing. To support the group, BMSG also created an analysis of social media marketing that promotes infant and toddler formulas to parents, as well as a summary of legal and regulatory mechanisms at both the state and federal level that could protect mothers and children from the infant formula industry’s aggressive marketing. 

Building Healthy Communities Narrative Change Project

The goal of the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Narrative Change Project was to assess how the Budget Our Values campaign, as well as related criminal justice reform and reinvestment issues, appeared in media narratives in four Northern California counties in 2017. The Budget Our Values campaign worked to make the case for investing Proposition 47 savings in prevention, economic development, equity, and local criminal justice reform measures - since often upstream investments in prevention are underfunded, and community resources are directed solely to downstream approaches focused on treatment or punishment.

Analysis from PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group examined print and online news, television news, and Twitter posts that appeared in 2017 and found an increase in the media discourse around criminal justice reform and reinvestment. These findings support the value of continued investment in community-level training and support around media advocacy and engagement. 

Changing the Narrative About Gun Violence in California

The discourse about gun violence is often dominated by horrific stories about mass shootings, but PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group wanted to know how more common types of violence that happen every day appear and how community-level prevention and intervention strategies are portrayed. In 2018, BMSG analyzed how three common types of gun violence (domestic violence, suicide, and community violence) are framed in California news, which provided a window into the public discourse. Through their analysis, they discovered that: 

  • There are gaps in the narrative about gun violence, particularly around suicide, domestic violence, and how they connect with gun violence. With very few articles about suicide and domestic violence and guns, it may be difficult for audiences to understand how common these types of gun violence are and why preventing them is so important.
  • Specific incidents and individualized framing dominate the news coverage about gun violence in California – which could limit discussion of solutions.
  • Most articles frame gun violence through a criminal justice lens that obscures context, consequences, and communities.
  • The pictures accompanying stories about community and domestic gun violence could reinforce stereotypes about young men of color.


Communicating for Change

The Berkeley Media Studies Group’s Communicating for Change training program helps community health advocates build media advocacy skills to make their case effectively for policy changes in hotly contested public debates. The Communicating for Change curriculum has provided training in core media advocacy skills to 600 California Endowment grantees, including learning to frame issues from a public health perspective, to package the important issue as a newsworthy story, and to argue the case effectively even in the face of opposition.

Following the training series, the Los Angeles County Violence Prevention Coalition Director, Kaile Shilling, reported a series of successful media “hits” that she attributed in large part to how prepared she felt from the training. 

Giving Health Advocates the Tools to Talk About Childhood Trauma

Giving Health Advocates the Tools to Talk About Childhood TraumaAdverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a critical public health issue with implications for every sector of society, but communicating about them can be challenging. In 2017, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) partnered with Kidsdata.org and ACEsConnection to provide a joint training for Northern California advocates to help improve their ability to understand science on ACEs, identify locally-relevant ACEs data, and develop compelling messages about their work. Participants hailed from various government departments and other sectors, including First 5 and local public health departments, county offices of education, and other agencies.

Upon completion of the training, 73% of participants reported that their ability to use data to make their case was either “advanced” or “intermediate/advanced” compared to just 38% from before. One participant shared: “My messaging will be more on point, and I'll be a little better prepared to pivot conversations that might otherwise be derailed.” Participants also remain engaged in efforts to convince decision-makers to invest greater resources in collecting data on ACEs.

Looking for tips on how to communicate effectively with policymakers about ACEs? Read BMSG's blog post.

Helping Cities Reduce Traffic Injuries and Deaths

Traffic fatalities and injuries are preventable, but does the public see them that way? To help the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in its goal to improve traffic safety and promote equitable mobility, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) examined public discourse on the issue and identified framing challenges and opportunities in the campaign for Vision Zero—an international movement rooted in collaboration across sectors to eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries, and to ensure safe, equitable mobility for everybody.

This project, with support from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and in partnership with MIG Communications and InterEthnica, analyzed how the news media portray vehicle crashes and other safety issues. Drawing insights from this analysis, BMSG created a framing brief to help Vision Zero stakeholders frame traffic safety in the context of public health, and also collaborated with the Vision Zero Network to produce two case studies showcasing how other communities have communicated effectively and strategically about policies that foster safe, equitable mobility. 

Helping Community Leaders Understand How the News Affects Racial and Health Equity

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) produced three news analyses as part of the California Endowment’s Spread and Scale initiative to build media awareness among community leaders in California. The analyses also provide recommendations to help advocates push for policy change to advance health and racial equity. Each analysis centered on one social aspect of health: uncovering who gets left out of police violence reports; if the media evoked racial associations in marijuana coverage; and how immigration narratives are framed in the news. BMSG also provided additional media advocacy trainings to leaders in Kern County and Orange County. 

Helping Youth Speak Up

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) helped a group of committed young people from Fresno become more effective spokespeople for reducing school dropout rates, an issue the youth had worked on for years. The group wanted to change the local school district's harsh discipline policies, which drove up suspensions and expulsions and eroded trust. BMSG taught the young advocates how to effectively frame and develop messages for their issue in advance of a hearing before the Fresno Unified School District.

After the young people testified, the district approved an alternative approach to discipline, promising to dedicate a portion of its budget to reiterative justice programs that replace punitive measures with conflict resolution and, ultimately, help keep kids in school.

Implementing Strategic Planning and Technical Assistance Support for an Ohio REACH Partnership

The Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH partnership is working to eliminate health disparities across a range of health issues in six Cleveland neighborhoods and one large section of East Cleveland, aiming to impact over 40,000 residents, many African-Americans.

PHI’s Berkley Media Studies Group (BMSG) worked with the Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH team in developing an overall strategic communication plan to support policy and system change strategies. This included training REACH partners to engage in local advocacy, assisting with development of a policy agenda to support the REACH project strategies and activities, coordinating with REACH teams to develop and write two success stories of local REACH partner efforts, and providing technical support.

Thanks in part to the strategic planning support from BMSG, the Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH team launched a program aimed at increasing access to nutritious food options by developing partnerships in seven targeted neighborhoods with local corner stores, providing a branded healthy store "certification" for these outlets to provide more fruits, vegetables and other healthier fare. They also started a new program to address racial health disparities in hypertension rates among Cuyahoga County residents, which resulted in more than half of 17 participating clinics showing marked improvement in blood pressure control among patients.

Preventing Community Violence by Changing the Media’s Discourse

We must change how we talk about community violence in order to ensure community safety. In conjunction with Prevention Institute, community leaders and violence prevention advocates in Northern California, PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) explored what it will take to change the discourse on violence, with a focus on the news media.

First, BMSG and partners worked with community violence prevention leaders to identify specific, solutions-oriented frames missing from the current discourse on violence. BMSG then conducted a news analysis of how those frames appeared in California papers from 2013-2015. Using this novel methodology, BMSG evaluated news from different sectors to identify opportunities for journalists to elevate community violence prevention. This research was then presented at convenings with community leaders to get their input and draft additional tools for action.

BMSG’s research uncovered trends in how community violence and safety are framed in California news—specifically, that a solutions-oriented frame is dwarfed by sensationalist coverage of individual crimes; that community safety news focuses on solutions, including preventive solutions; that police dominate the coverage but community residents are becoming more visible; and that an emerging frame in the coverage focuses on racism as a root cause of violence. These findings lay the groundwork for shifting the discourse around violence and elevating prevention. See the full research.

Providing Messaging Insight and Media Tips for Soda Tax Advocates

In 2014, voters in the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco, California, were asked to decide whether to place an excise tax on sugary drinks sold within their borders. Berkeley made history when it passed the nation's first tax on sugary drinks, despite an aggressive anti-tax campaign from the beverage industry. San Francisco's measure was approved by the majority of voters but failed to reach the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Given the prominence of these two policy battles and the likelihood that more will follow, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group conducted an ethnographic content analysis of news articles, social media posts, and campaign materials related to the soda tax initiatives in Berkeley and San Francisco. Their research explores characteristics of the debates around the measures, and offers insights to future soda tax proponents. Read the brief and related resources.

Studying Digital and Target Marketing to Advance Equity for Vulnerable Young People

Working in collaboration with the Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change and Unidos US, Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) works to coordinate research, action and advocacy aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating junk food marketing targeted at children and youth of color, as well as low-income kids and youth.

Looking at websites and other resources, BMSG analyzed how advocates were—or weren’t—talking about targeted marketing, and found that while many documents address marketing to children in general, few explicitly focus on targeted marketing or include images of children or families of color. Researchers then produced a framing brief to help advocates more effectively discuss targeted junk food marketing from a racial and health equity lens.

Read the brief to learn more about the findings.

Supporting Healthy Options

PHI research, evaluation and media advocacy played a key role in the passage of new taxes on sugary beverages around the country in 2016, which will raise millions to support children and healthier communities. Research by Dr. Lynn Silver, as well as PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group, evaluated existing soda taxes, helped counter misleading messages from the soda industry and framed the conversation around public health.

Teaching Social Advocacy in Public Health Programs

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) helped to create a curriculum and resource guide for public health programs to teach social advocacy, an area of training that degree-granting programs in public health rarely provide. 




Training California Communities to Effectively Frame and Communicate Public Health Campaigns

In 2015 - 2016, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) provided media advocacy training and technical assistance to 135 selected grantees of the California Wellness Foundation across the state. Through multiple in-person trainings, participants developed skills around framing and messaging, received support with customer relationship and database management, learned tools for effective communication with collaborative organizations, and identified proactive and reactive strategies to create media coverage about their work. 

Following the in-person trainings, BMSG delivered the Winter on the Web series, covering a range of topics designed to help grantees further develop their strategic communications capacity. The demand for the customized TA was so high that BMSG provide extended availability to meet groups’ needs, and continues to provide tools and resources for the cohort.