Top 10 public health and social justice media bites of 2019
December 20, 2019 | Heather Gehlert, Berkeley Media Studies Group | Originally published by PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group
Each year, one of our favorite blogs at PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) is our annual Top 10 list of media bites. Our staff members narrow the selections from dozens of favorites that have grabbed our attention during research analyses and the daily news monitoring we conduct. Looking back at the year in quotes allows us to reflect not only on challenges the public health community, and our country more broadly, have faced, but also on the progress we’ve made together.
As is often the case, this year’s list covers a variety of topics; however, one theme that unifies the quotes is their ability to help move news coverage from stories about individuals to stories about communities. As Bay Area resident and disability rights activist Stacey Milbern said in a recent article for KQED, “A lot of activism work is trying to shift people to think about interdependence rather than independence. I believe if you view the needs of the most marginalized people impacted by an issue, then ultimately the entire community benefits.”
We couldn’t agree more. Many of our selections below elevate the themes of interdependence and equity. 2019 has been an intense, difficult year in many ways, but these quotes, and the voices behind them, help us approach the new year with renewed passion and enthusiasm for the issues we hold dear. We hope they do the same for you.
Why we like it: This quote pushes the narrative about health upstream to show that housing is not only a social determinant of health — it’s foundational to it. A growing number of health departments are taking a housing-first approach to health; however, media portrayals of housing often fail to reflect this shift, and many articles still treat housing as separate from, instead of integral to, health. Quotes like this one from Dr. Bamberger show that practitioners can use their voices to help to change this.
Why we like it: When a widely circulated video revealed white high school student Nick Sandmann smirking at and blocking a Native American man from gaining access to the Lincoln Memorial, he was widely accused of racism. Yet, national news producers nevertheless invited Sandmann on the air to explain his side of the story. As Elie Mystal explains using a powerful juxtaposition, the same isn’t true for Black children. They, too, have a story, but we don’t get to hear from youth like Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin. Too often, they are denied more than just a voice; they are denied their lives.
Photo by Zoran Kokanovic on Unsplash
Why we like it: We all know the up-by-your-bootstraps, rags-to-riches frame that dominates so much of the United States’ mainstream cultural landscape. The media often reinforce this frame through “hero” stories that elevate individuals who triumph despite great odds and amass material forms of success. This quote challenges that deeply held frame, shifting our understanding of the American Dream from individual wealth to the collective good.
Photo by Micheile Henderson @micheile010 // Visual Stories [nl] on Unsplash
Why we like it: Besides putting a lump in our throat, this quote offers an excellent example of social math, a strategy that we frequently encourage advocates to use to make statistics more meaningful and relatable. The quote also makes clear, in an emotionally compelling way, the social cost of unfettered access to guns.
Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash
Environments and health
Why we like it: Accountability is at the heart of this media bite, which emphasizes what happens when the people with decision-making power are out of touch with the lives of the people who will be affected by those decisions.
Photo by Imani on Unsplash
Why we like it: This quote features a powerful metaphor and expresses can-do spirit, something we sorely need if we are to succeed in arresting climate change. As a highly effective youth activist, Greta Thunberg has garnered ample media coverage for this critical topic; however, we also hope to see more news articles in 2020 that feature other climate activists, particularly youth from indigenous communities, whose work on this issue deserves more time in the spotlight.
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs
Why we like it: When people think of freedom, they often imagine having the freedom to do — or choose — something. However, as this media bite illustrates, freedom can also mean freedom from, such as freedom from corporate influence and freedom from ill health. That reframe of an important shared value can help public health advocates counter common opposition arguments from Big Tobacco and other industries.
Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar on Unsplash
Why we like it: Taxes are how we pool our resources to make equity possible across many populations and social justice issues. But it’s rare for sources quoted in the media to make this connection so explicit. In this media bite, Rutger Bregman discusses the irony of people traveling by private jet to hear a talk about climate change, while no one was talking about raising taxes on the rich. Through our work with Public Health Awakened, we hope to further shift the narrative on taxes in relation to health and equity.
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash
Heather Gehlert is a Senior Manager of Communication and Digital Strategy at PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group.