The Salience of Small: Nanotechnology Coverage in the American Press, 1986-2004
Lewenstein, Bruce V.; Gorss, Jason; Radin, Joanna
Recent studies of media coverage of biotechnology have suggested that such coverage was similar to coverage of nuclear energy and other "emerging technologies." To move beyond individual cases and towards a broader theory of media coverage of emerging technologies, this study looks at a new emerging technology – nanotechnology – and explicitly compares coverage of it to coverage of earlier emerging technologies. We present a preliminary content analysis of nanotechnology coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Associated Press for the period 1 January 1986 to 30 June 2004. Media attention to nanotechnology seems to parallel coverage of biotechnology in its early stages of issue development—starting out low and rising sharply as it spreads from “elite” media outlets to more general outlets. As with biotechnology, coverage of nanotechnology throughout this period is overwhelmingly positive, focusing on progress and potential economic benefits, and with little discussion of attendant risks. Nanotechnology coverage does, however, focus more on risks from the outset than biotechnology did, suggesting that issues of public accountability are growing more salient to journalists. We conclude with comments about the possibility of a theory of media coverage of emerging technologies.
nanotechnology; science journalism
Previously Published As
Lewenstein, B. V., Gorss, J., & Radin, J. (2005, 26-30 May 2005). The Salience of Small: Nanotechnology Coverage in the American Press, 1986-2004. Paper presented at the International Communication Association, New York.