Search

My Drug of Choice: How and Why the News Media Characterize an Expanding Range of Activities as Addictions

Project: 82
Name: Ronald Bishop (rcbsam@comcast.net; 302-598-2667)
Department: Culture and Communication
Academic Area: Communication

Title: My Drug of Choice: How and Why the News Media Characterize an Expanding Range of Activities as Addictions

Description:
I argue that the increased public awareness and discussion of addiction is now reflected in what we believe is a growing tendency of journalists to treat a widening range of activities as addictions by borrowing language from the addiction diagnosis and treatment. / / An individual fighting an addiction ticks many of the boxes on the journalist's checklist for what makes a compelling story. Addiction pits an individual against a substance over which he or she has no control. Other lives are affected; families are strained. An addict who ends his or her addiction can be framed as a triumphant hero, his family as extremely devoted for staying around during the toughest times. Thus, an addiction is dramatic and easily personalizable, and it is an experience with which many can relate to and empathize. The struggle is often arduous and life threatening, if not life ending. / / This summer, we will conduct a content analysis of online news coverage in the U.S. Articles from 1971, when then President Nixon first declared the nation's "War on Drugs" 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011. The following search terms will beused: "addict," "addicted," "addiction,""addicted to," "addiction to," "my addiction," "junkie," and "my fix." Because a story headline might be unclear as to the object of someone's addiction, we will refer to the short excerpt of the article provided in the Google search results for clarification. / / We will also code the name of the news organization, date of publication, the age and sex of the individual described by the journalist, whether they live in an urban, rural, or suburban setting, the object of their addiction, how long they had been addicted, and the catalyst for the addiction (encounter with or exposure to the object or activity, persuasion by friends or family, risk behavior, work-related stress, tumult in personal life, etc.). The results of their "addiction" will also coded: depression, financial hit, strain on family life, enjoyment, loss of job, and more positive things: improved relationships with family, happiness, lack of strain on family life, acceptance by or rejection/concern by friends and family, and any expression of desire to seek treatment, facetious or otherwise.

Associated Independent Study:
While suffering from an addiction has certainly not lost its social stigma, public discussion of addiction has. Addicts are still marginalized, but their plight is now well publicized, thanks in part to extensive, often sensational news media coverage of celebrity battles with addiction and the success of television shows like the A&E Network's Intervention. In this paper, I argue that the increased public awareness and discussion of addiction is now reflected in what we believe is a growing tendency of journalists to treat a widening range of activities as addictions by borrowing language from the addiction diagnosis and treatment.

Gained Experience:
The project will help the student hone his/her research and interview skills, and familiarize them with how an academic paper is written and submitted for conference presentation/publication.

Outcome:
Eventually, this project will become a chapter or two in the social/media history of addiction. For now, though, it will produce a paper that will be submitted and presented at an academic conference.

Tasks:
Locating news articles that feature addiction as a main theme; helping to research the social history of addiction, coding the articles, and writing the paper.

Location:
Research can be done in my office (PSA 324) or Hagerty Library. Interviews with area journalists would be conducted at mutually convenient locations.

Meetings:
Two hours per week on Wednesday mornings should be fine; we can also check in via email and phone.

Interview Availability:
April 17, April 18