History of Social Perceptions of HIV and AIDS in Atlanta, GA: A Print Media Analysis Open Access

Nerses, Katherine Nicole (2017)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/pv63g1045?locale=en


Media has been described as both influencing and reflecting social perceptions of reality. What the media chooses to and not to publish, and how those issues are addressed, can be reflective of social discourse around the subject.This study functions as an exploration into how HIV and AIDS were positioned in the context of local print media discourse in order to inform an analysis of larger public conversations around the illness. Three different local newspapers were used in this analysis - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Inquirer and Creative Loafing - with each one catering to different sub-populations within Atlanta and characterized by distinctive publishing capacities. The language in and the frequency of reports on HIV and AIDS were used as proxies to determine public attitudes towards and the import of the epidemic in local discourse. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with local physicians and researchers to provide a context through which the results can be interpreted into local perceptions. Textual analysis shows that the frequency of reporting on HIV and AIDS across different newspapers were mediated by the perceived risk that their readers had of contracting HIV. The nature of the discussions of HIV and AIDS in the articles can be grouped into four chronological stages designated by overarching conceptualizations asserted in the newspapers: othering the illness to at-risk populations, reinforcing the risk that HIV/AIDS poses to everyone, differential levels of attention to global versus local epidemics and generalized lack of discussion about HIV/AIDS. The four stages of newspaper reporting are evidence that, just as the epidemiological manifestations of HIV/AIDS have changed over time, so too have people's understandings of the illness and those living with it. This study further surmises that the discourse around HIV and AIDS in local newspapers cannot be disentangled from the historical and cultural context of metropolitan Atlanta and the south-eastern region of the United States.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Significance of The Project 1

Brief Introduction to the Epidemic of HIV and AIDS in the United States 3

Cultural Context of the start of the AIDS epidemic in Atlanta, GA 7

Social Perceptions and Health-Seeking Behaviors 12

The Significance of Print Media 15

Media and its Relationship to Social Perceptions 15

Power Relations in the Publishing and Consumption of Media 18

Methodology 22

Developing a Timeline 22

News Sources 23

Media Analysis 25

Table 1: Newspaper Sources and Databases 26

Interviews 29

Stage I: The "Gay Plague" 31

Frequency of Mention: 1981-1989 33

Table 2: Major events in the AIDS epidemic from 1981-1989 33

Figure 1: Frequency of Reports on HIV and AIDS: 1981 to 1989 34

Frame of Discussion: 1981-1989 37

Stage II: "AIDS Does Not Discriminate" 44

Historical Context: AIDS Epidemic in the 1990s 44

Table 3: Major events in the AIDS epidemic from 1990 to 1997 48

Frequency of Mention: 1990-1997 49

Figure 2: Frequency of Reports on HIV and AIDS: 1990-1997 50

Frame of Discussion: 1990-1997 51

Stage III: Attention Goes Global 56

Historical Context: Changes at the Turn of the 21st Century 56

Image 1: Estimated AIDS Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence in the US --1981 to 2000 57

Table 4: Major events of the AIDS epidemic from 1998 to 2007 59

Frequency of Mention: 1998-2007 59

Figure 3: Frequency of Reports on HIV and AIDS: 1998-2007 60

Frame of Discussion: 1998-2007 61

Stage IV: AIDS Assumes Social Invisibility 66

Historical Context: AIDS Epidemic in the Recent Past 66

Table 5: Major events in the AIDS epidemic from 2008 to 2016 67

Frequency of Mention: 2008-2016 69

Figure 4: Frequency of Reports on HIV and AIDS: 2008-2016 69

Frame of Discussion: 2008-2016 70

Discussion and Conclusions 74

Figure 5: Rate of Reporting of HIV and AIDS and Incidence Rate of AIDS in Atlanta, GA: 1981-2016 75

Works Cited 85

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