Today I’m deviating from my scheduled programming (although I know you’re all dying to know what’s on my summer reading list) to get my communication and media nerd on. I suppose this is the part where I pull my “lifestyle blog” card as a way of writing about, well, whatever I want.
An article I read yesterday included the following quote:
“MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. It can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling, and thinking. It’s different for each person. Some may go through life with only minor problems, while others can become seriously disabled. Most people are somewhere in between.”
The article in question came from JustJared.com, a celebrity gossip blog that was reporting on Jack Osbourne’s recent MS diagnosis. Similar explanations of the disease could be found on websites ranging from Rolling Stone to ABC News .
There is nothing surprising about the explosion of MS coverage that occurred following Osbourne’s diagnosis; people care about celebrities and what happens to them. It does, however, lend credence to the mantra I repeated while writing my senior thesis: Celebrity Journalism Matters.
Skeptics can laugh all they want, but yes that was the basis of my most important paper in college. My thesis worked off of the idea that research on celebrity journalism matters because the tone, language and substance of gossip articles can tell us very real things about societal norms and expectations. The recent burst of MS related coverage points to a different way in which celebrity journalism matters: it can allow people to learn where they might otherwise not.
Celebrity Health in the Media
I know, I know, the gossip blog followers of the world don’t seem like an audience eager to learn and absorb. But that’s exactly why moments like this are so important. Coverage of celebrity health offers an opportunity for open discussions of health issues. For example, Katie Couric’s on-air colonoscopy brought the topic into the public arena. She created a public conversation around her colonoscopy in hopes of raising awareness and preventing others from dying of colon cancer as her husband did.
Such public conversations may have a measurable effect on the public’s health behaviors. Following Couric’s procedure, there was a 20% spike in colonoscopies. Additionally, a 2005 study found that there was an unprecedented increase in mammogram appointments following Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis. There is something powerful about celebrity health narratives that can help to mobilize people.
Use the Opportunity
This most recent round of health-related celebrity news offers an opportunity for public health education. Some organizations have used the news as an opportunity to offer up information on Twitter or Facebook to those who don’t understand the disease or want to learn more.
It would be interesting to see whether coverage of Osbourne’s diagnosis coincides with increased awareness and knowledge about MS. What it certainly highlights is the need to remember that occasionally celebrity journalism allows us to reach new audiences with important messages. You may not agree that celebrity journalism is important, worth studying, or even tolerable, but while it exists we may as well make the most of it.
…And thus concludes an installment of “Watch me meagerly defend my field of study.”