This study demonstrated that media frames public health risk communication differently than government and public health experts, which may lead to misinterpreted risks, and offers advice on how to adapt risk communication strategies for consistent message framing.
Framing of health risk messages may be disseminated and interpreted in unpredictable ways; therefore, it is important for government and public health officials to be very clear in their communication with the media and the public. Speaking in one, consistent voice is key for understanding and persuasiveness. Especially during emerging and uncertain outbreaks like COVID-19, government and public health agencies should adapt to the dynamic news environment by recognizing the media’s agenda and addressing the social context in which the outbreak is occurring. By adjusting their communication, public health officials can meet the media’s needs without compromising the health information they are providing. For example, providing media with short-form communication to help meet media’s time restrictions will limit the media’s need for rushed, editorial interpretation. Additionally, adapting information into a narrative improves information visualization and aligns with media’s storytelling function. By mirroring the media’s approach, government and public health agencies may appeal more to both the media and the public, which can positively affect their ability to disseminate critical information.