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New Study on Paid Family Leave on Local Television News in the U.S.

Our team, led by Margaret Tait, recently published the results of a study exploring local television news coverage related to paid family leave policy in SSM-Population Health. A team of trained coders conducted a content analysis of relevant local news stories airing in 2018 and 2019 on the four major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX) in all 210 media markets in the U.S.

Coders were instructed to identify elements of a story relevant to our research interests, including references to and details of public policy; sources included in coverage (e.g. politicians, health professionals, or advocates); and individuals reflecting on personal experience with paid leave. 

We found that local news coverage of paid leave during this pre-pandemic time period was infrequent and seldom included important details that might bolster public and policymaker support for paid leave. Among stories that did mention or discuss paid leave in greater detail, many (64%) discussed the issue in the context of public policy and referred to early-stage policy activity. Politicians were commonly featured in coverage, while other sources, like health professionals and researchers, were not included in any stories. Stories that included an individual speaking about their experience with paid leave most often included women speaking about leave-taking before or following childbirth. Highlighting paid leave and related policy on local TV news could help a viewer and potential voter understand the potential for public policy solutions to address issues of unpaid leave and further motivate policymakers to pursue action. 

This study is part of our team’s larger body of work to explore the content of local TV news coverage of social policy issues and the potential for coverage to promote or limit support for policy reform.

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant no. 75347). 

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