UW Graduate School

Lori Dorfman

Lori DorfmanBUNK: The Information Series

  • Director, Berkeley Media Studies Group, a project of the Public Health Institute and Associate Adjunct Professor, Health and Social Behavior, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley

October 25, 2018   |   7:30 p.m.
Kane Hall, room 120

  • Register here.
  • This event is free and open to the public. 

How Typical News Narratives Undermine the Public’s Health

Research shows that in the U.S. most people think that individuals are masters of their own destiny. People believe that hard work, discipline, and self-determination will outweigh other factors such as the conditions in which they live. These values extend to people’s perceptions about health as well: their gut-level assumption—the default frame—is that individuals can control their own health outcomes if they make the right choices.

The problem with the default frame is that it hides the influence of the places where people live, work, learn, and play. Hard work and determination matter, but so do conditions and circumstances. To understand health, especially at the population level, the conditions surrounding individuals need to be part of the story.

The default frame is like a portrait, focused narrowly on the details of a single person or event. Typical news stories revel in that sort of storytelling, as do many of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. But to correctly depict health issues, news coverage must also use frames that are more like landscapes—frames that include people, but also the context that surrounds them including the conditions that make life expectancy in some zip codes much higher than others.

Dr. Dorfman will show how public health struggles with, and sometimes wins, this framing battle across different public health issues, from tobacco to soda to violence.

About Lori Dorfman

Lori Dorfman, DrPH, MPH, directs Berkeley Media Studies Group, a project of the Public Health Institute, where she oversees BMSG’s research, media advocacy training and strategic consultation for public health advocates, and professional education for journalists. Since 1993, BMSG has worked with advocates to build their capacity to use media advocacy to focus attention on transforming systems and structures to foster health. Dr. Dorfman’s research examines how the media portray health issues, including tobacco, food, children’s health, health inequities, and violence, among others.

Dr. Dorfman was part of a groundbreaking interdisciplinary team that helped news organizations include a public health perspective in their crime and violence coverage. She leads a team working with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to uncover the most effective ways to change the public conversation about sexual violence so it includes prevention. With colleagues at Center for Science in the Public Interest, she co-convenes the Food Marketing Workgroup, a national network dedicated to eliminating harmful food marketing by actively identifying, investigating, and advocating changes to marketing practices that undermine health. With colleagues at the Center for Digital Democracy, Dr. Dorfman has been conducting research on digital marketing targeting children and youth.

With colleagues at Prevention Institute, Dr. Dorfman is conducting research to determine how community violence, safety and trauma are portrayed in news. Dr. Dorfman teaches Mass Communication in Public Health at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is Associate Adjunct Professor. She received her Master of Public Health in 1989 and her Doctor of Public Health degree in 1994, both from the University of California, Berkeley. Before public health school, she worked with the Women’s Needs Center, a section of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics and with Project AWARE, the Association for Women’s AIDS Research and Education. Dr. Dorfman’s publications are available from http://www.bmsg.org/.

Sponsoring Departments

  • UW Graduate School
  • School of Public Health