Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Berkeley Media Studies Group

Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) works with community groups, journalists and public health professionals to use the power of the media to advance healthy public policy. To do this, BMSG conducts research to understand how news, entertainment and advertising portray health and social issues. Through media advocacy training and consultation, BMSG helps advocates harness lessons from that research and develop the skills they need to become stronger voices in policy debate and illuminate the need for improving the places where all people live, learn, work and play.

Program Director(s)

Lori Dorfman

Program Site



A Systems-oriented Approach to Evaluating Local Sugar-sweetened Beverage Tax

BMSG will collect a representative sample of news coverage focused on San Francisco and Berkeley’s ballot initiatives. We will learn how the debates were framed in the region, which sectors and which speakers dominated the coverage, the messages they used, and how the news coverage of the process in Berkeley and San Francisco compares to coverage of prior efforts in California. We will also learn whether the coverage in the Bay Area media market of the soda tax initiatives differed from coverage that appeared in selected statewide and national news outlets.

American University FFS

BMSG will advise American University on public health implications of health wearables; assist with identifying participants for interviews and stakeholder meetings and read/comment on drafts of articles, reports, etc.

Analysis of Child Sexual Abuse in News Coverage

BMSG analyzed U.S. newspaper coverage of childhood sexual assault to provide the Ms. Foundation for Women and its partners a more thorough understanding of how journalists cover and frame the issue. This provides a framework for helping sexual assault prevention advocates decide how they can reshape the debate to focus on prevention.

Analysis of The California Endowment’s Building Health Communities Initiative

The Berkeley Media Studies Group will conduct content analysis to review The California Endowment’s Building Health Communities Initiative’s (BHC) current equity related frames and priorities, drawing upon information collected by Center for Social Inclusion.  BMSG will assess representative samples of BHC’s framing compared to other approaches and conduct up to 25 interviews with key BHC stakeholders in coordination with TCE and The Praxis Project.

Attorney General Interventions to Limit Unfair and Deceptive Digital Food Marketing to Children

The Berkeley Media Studies Group is working with the Public Health Advocacy Institute to: 1) investigate how food and beverage marketers use digital, especially mobile, media to target children; 2) analyze the implications of these marketing practices; 3) contribute to the analysis of how state attorneys general can use these campaigns; and 4) assist with publication of scholarly and policy documents.


Augmentation for The Yellow Book: A Comprehensive Message Guide for Sexual Violence Prevention

The Berkeley Media Studies Group is working with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to develop and disseminate resources for sexual violence prevention practitioners to be able to more effectively engage the media in reporting on the topic. The purpose of this project is to develop a Yellow Book that will serve as a comprehensive sexual violence prevention message guide to enable advocates to be concise, consistent, and “on message” no matter where they are in the country, who their audience is, or whether they are working on sexual harassment, child sexual assault, rape, trafficking or anything else on the continuum of sexual assault.

Berkeley Media Studies Group is also assisting the National Sexual Resource Center in changing the public conversation about sexual violence to include a prevention perspective. We are developing a comprehensive guide for advocates that combines an analysis of current media coverage of sexual violence with guidance about which messages can withstand potential opposition and support prevention policies.

Big Data and the Transformation of the Retail Food Marketplace

The purpose of this project is to create a research agenda for addressing how the digital retail marketplace should inform studies in the field of public health and healthy eating research. Berkeley Media Studies Group will analyze how Big Data-driven local marketing practices are being used to influence food and beverage products in grocery, retailers, and convenience stores, synthesize industry and academic literature on digital food and beverage marketing focused on retail environments with special attention to the impacts on communities of color and low-income communities, and interview public health researchers, practitioners, and legal scholars from public health, marketing, and related fields to collect their insights, concerns, and questions.

Building Capacity to Make the Case for Healthier Beverage Environments

The overall goal of this project is to increase public health advocates' capacity to influence public debate and public policy on a critical aspect of the food and fitness environment: the beverage environment. BMSG is working with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and others in California to help advocates around the state build their capacity to make the case for healthier beverage environments.

California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

BMSG is assessing current narratives, frames and messages about adolescent dating abuse and prevention heard by California’s educational leaders.  An on-camera spokesperson training and communications plan will also be completed.

Cohort-Based Technical Assistance Sessions

Berkeley Media Studies Group will support The California Wellness Foundation’s Advancing Wellness grantees transitioning from the Foundation’s support so they can amplify and expand their good work. This project will build their capacity for attracting new funding so they can continue to fight for healthier communities across California. BMSG specializes in building the capacity of community-based groups and public health leaders to become strong voices in policy debate. BMSG will provide media advocacy trainings supported by technical assistance and strategic consultation specifically suited for this transition cohort. The trainings and consultations would help the grantees transform the courage of their convictions into effective communication with policy makers, reporters, and allies they want to enlist in their efforts. The trainings would be tailored to grantees’ needs, but also emphasize two key concepts: framing and strategy.

Communicating for Change 2015-2016

BMSG will support, plan and participate in up to four meetings to review and assess the Health ExChange Academy goals and implementation with TCE staff and other Health ExChange Academy providers at TCE in Los Angeles.

Communicating for Change Trainings 2014

The Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) will conduct up to 23 Communicating for Change training modules for The California Endowment's (TCE) grantees across California. Since BMSG first developed the program, hundreds of TCE grantees have learned concrete skills to engage the media strategically to advance their community health policy goals.


Communication Plan Development for Cuyahoga County, Ohio's REACH Grant

The Berkley Media Studies Group will provide assistance to the Cuyahoga County, Ohio REACH teams, in developing an overall strategic communication plan to support policy and system change strategies.

Communication Technical Assistance and Training

BMSG will assist FHI 360 with providing technical assistance and training to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Community Health grantees in the areas of media strategies, messaging and other communication skills for community engagement.

Communities Creating Healthy Environments

Berkeley Media Studies Group will focus on documenting, analyzing and helping local groups act on the latest marketing maneuvers from the food and beverage industry targeting children, youth and communities of color for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Communities Creating Healthy Environments program.

Communities Putting Prevention to Work: Messaging and Spokesperson Training

BMSG is part of ICF Macro's Resource Center, providing support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative. BMSG provides training workshops, individualized technical assistance, tools and individual community consultation on messaging, and spokesperson training for CDC grantees working to prevent obesity and promote tobacco control.

Community Creating Healthy Environments Communications Support

Over the course of the first year of the CCHE initiative, BMSG will actively participate on the CCHE Initiative communications team. BMSG will also attend regular planning meetings for the initiative, and will participate in the Roots and Remedies conference sponsored by the Praxis Project. Based on gaps and needs that surface during communications team meetings, BMSG will share framing and messaging tools that are relevant to the needs of Network organizations and will support their communication goals.

Consultation Services for Children's Advocacy Centers of California

BMSG will provide strategic consultation services to the Children's Advocacy Centers of California, a program of the Child Abuse Listening, Interviewing and Coordination Center.  BMSG will help CACC in their efforts to collaborate with California's multidisciplinary team of legal and social service partners that advocate for children who have been abused.

Consultation to PolicyLink for the Convergence Partnership

BMSG is providing consultation on framing and strategic communications for the Convergence Partnership, a collaboration of funders committed to supporting multifield, equity-focused efforts to improve communities so everyone can be healthy. PolicyLink, the Partnership program director, helps to develop strategy and advance the Partnership's vision and works with Prevention Institute to provide policy research and analysis.


Content Analysis of News Coverage of the Jerry Sandusky Child Sexual Assault Allegations

BMSG has conducted a content analysis of the news coverage surrounding allegations that Jerry Sandusky, a long-time coach at Pennsylvania State University, sexually abused boys. Through a previous project, BMSG analyzed typical news coverage of child sexual abuse and produced recommendations for journalists and prevention advocates. BMSG’s analysis compares the Sandusky coverage to prior news coverage of child sexual abuse.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Cause Marketing by the Soda Industry

With support from the Healthy Eating Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, BMSG examined the marketing tactics from soda companies and assessed their campaigns in light of how the tobacco industry employed similar strategies to thwart regulation, cultivate a positive business climate and gain public support.



Customized Strategic Communications Trainings at the Canadian Science Writers' Association Meeting

The Berkeley Media Studies Group will collaborate with the University of Ottawa in designing and delivering customized strategic communications trainings for population and public health researchers and science reporters with an interest in health who will be attending the 2013 Canadian Science Writers' Association Meeting.

Documenting Building Healthy Communities and Healthy Equity Practice

BMSG will research, report, and write four case studies of California-based local health departments being honored by The California Endowment for their innovative work to advance health equity. BMSG will work with a TCE designer to produce the final versions, make the finished products available online, and develop a plan for disseminating the work.

Evaluating Media Messaging on Childhood Obesity to Inform Advocacy on a Culture of Health

Berkeley Media Studies Group and Portland State University will collaborate on an in-depth assessment of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act sharing findings, lessons learned and implications for other policy debates with Voices for Healthy Kids grantees and others in the childhood obesity prevention movement.

Evaluating the Public Debate Over Fast-Food Zoning Ordinances

This project will examine the extent, and nature, of the public debate surrounding efforts to pass fast-food zoning policies. Studying news depictions of fast-food zoning ordinance campaigns will help researchers, advocates and policymakers who want to pursue similar measures understand —and better influence—the debates they are about to enter.

Evaluation of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s Initiatives

Berkeley Media Studies Group will design and conduct a content analysis of health coverage in Kentucky news outlets and share findings with CCHE and the Foundation.  Over the course of the initiative, BMSG's analysis will produce an in-depth quantitative and qualitative portrait of the news coverage on the Foundation, grantees, and policy areas that the initiative addresses.  It will also provide a window into the larger conversation around health in Kentucky by tracking statements by opponents, journalists, and members of the public who are also actively framing Kentucky health issues.

Feeding Infants and Toddlers: Is Industry Marketing Undermining Health?

Berkeley Media Studies Group and the California WIC Association will collaborate on convening selected researchers, public health practitioners, funders and other stakeholders to identify research questions and explore opportunities for action around infant formula marketing and feeding toddlers to improve breastfeeding rates and toddler feeding practices in California and beyond.

Food Marketing in the News and on the Web: A Content Analysis of Opinion Pages, the Trade Press and Websites Designed for Children

BMSG, through this sub-award with Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, analyzed the content of news and websites for breakfast cereal, fast food, and sugary beverage targeting children. BMSG studied one category each year to assess the digital techniques food and beverage marketers use to keep children interacting with their brands.



Food Marketing to Children Workgroup

BMSG and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are convening and coordinating the Food Marketing Workgroup, a network of more than 120 organizations and academic experts in the U.S. who are concerned about the proliferation of marketing of unhealthful foods and beverages that targets children and adolescents.

Food Marketing Workgroup 2013

The Berkeley Media Studies Group coordinates the Food Marketing Workgroup, a network of more than 130 organizations and academic experts that works with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantees and the American Heart Association to reverse childhood obesity by focusing its advocacy on competitive foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and food marketing.

Framing and Effectively Communicating About Sexual Violence Prevention

The complexities of sexual harassment, abuse and assault make it difficult to talk about. With effective communication strategies, advocates can show different audiences that sexual violence is preventable, and can inspire them to become part of prevention efforts, whoever and wherever they are. Berkeley Media Studies Group is facilitating a training that brings together California-based Rape Prevention Education (RPE) grantees to learn about how to use BMSG’s research-informed messaging and framing guides to develop effective and compelling messages about preventing sexual violence across the lifespan.

Framing Primary Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence

BMSG worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation's Delta PREP grantees to help coalitions understand challenges in current news coverage of violence; identify opportunities to create news around primary prevention of domestic violence; and frame intimate partner violence to emphasize prevention and promote policy solutions.



Futures Without Violence: Expanding the Ability of the Child Welfare System to Serve Families Experiencing Domestic Violence

Berkeley Media Studies Group is working with Futures Without Violence to identify and evaluate news framing of child welfare issues and the child welfare system itself to elucidate the implications of that framing for the work Futures Quality Improvement Center project going forward.

Health in All Policies Toolkit

BMSG is working with the California Department of Public Health to review and refine its messages supporting "health in all policies," an approach that considers how all of our public policymaking decisions impact health. BMSG is writing a chapter on talking about health in all policies for a toolkit the Department of Public Health is developing to help advocates make the case for why health in all policies helps protect physical and fiscal health, advance community engagement, and build relationships across government sectors.

Healthy Youth, Healthy Region Spokesperson Training

BMSG worked with the Sierra Health Foundation to amplify the effects of the Healthy Youth, Healthy Region report that the Foundation commissioned from the University of California at Davis' Center for Regional Change. BMSG advised the Foundation on the dissemination and media strategy for the report release and preparing Foundation spokespeople, including youth, to talk with reporters, policy makers and other civic leaders.

Informing Partners in the Communities Creating Health Environments Program of Unhealthy Practices of the Food-Marketing Industry

BMSG serves on The Praxis Project’s technical assistance team for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Communities Creating Healthy Environments program to ensure that all of its partners are: 1) aware of the latest marketing practices of the food industry, particularly in communities of color; and 2) equipped to challenge practices that interfere with establishing healthy environments for children and adolescents.


Media Advocacy Course for MPA Students

Berkeley Media Studies worked with the University of California, Berkeley to lead a 1 unit media advocacy course for master of public affairs students at UC Berkeley. The course involved individualized study guided by readings and webinars for MPA students as well full day, Saturday class.

Media Advocacy for Healthier School and Neighborhood Environments

This project expands the capacity of advocates and youth journalists to tell effective stories about the importance of healthier school and neighborhood environments in California. The Berkeley Media Studies Group will assist with message development and framing, media advocacy training, and creation of an interactive online space for exchanging digital marketing information about food and beverages, and will track junk food marketing trends to inform policy making.


Media Advocacy Training

Berkeley Media Studies Group will design a comprehensive media advocacy training for Consumer Health Foundation grantees focused on health equity.

Organizational Media Strategy Session

Berkeley Media Studies Group will conduct a 3-hour media strategy session that will cover best practices, content development, messaging for particular audiences and issues, message dissemination and organizational needs and capacity building assessment.

Paper Tigers Screening

Berkeley Media Studies Group will assume the planning, oversight, and hosting of a film screening of Paper Tigers in the Bay Area.  The screening will also include a panel discussion afterward.

Personal Responsibility Rhetoric on Tobacco- and Obesity-Related Litigation, Legislation and News Coverage

BMSG is collaborating with the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University Law School to analyze arguments over who is responsible for causing, and remedying, two of the most serious public health crises in recent history: tobacco and obesity. BMSG and PHAI are examining personal responsibility arguments in litigation, legislation, and in news coverage during major tobacco and obesity events of the past 50 years.




Providing Health Messaging Trainings

To support communications trainings for delivery of Health Happens Here frames and messages to grantees and partners in regional meetings and convenings in California.

San Diego Training Resource Center

Berkeley Media Studies Group will train public health department leaders, community health advocates and other stakeholders in Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, San Diego, and Inyo counties to develop strategic communications and media advocacy skills to more effectively work together and advocate for policy, systems and environmental changes to improve nutrition and physical activity environments.

Sea Change Program

BMSG will work with the Tides Center to support the Sea Change Program (SCP) in transforming the culture of stigma around abortion by 1) Adding abortion, stigma, and related issues to its daily news digest (In the News); 2) Develop a research protocol for a news analysis BMSG will conduct and 3) Training SCP staff and selected allies (up to 25 people).

Soda Tax Debates in Telluride, Colorado: How Were They Framed?

This project aims to understand how news coverage portrayed the proposed soda tax in Telluride, Colorado, so future ballot initiatives might better anticipate what to expect when sugar sweetened beverage taxes are presented to local voters.  Berkeley Media Studies Group will gather and analyze local and national news media content and online comments on articles and in blogs surrounding the public debate about Telluride’s ballot initiative to raise taxes on sugary drinks.

Strategic Communication Trainings

BMSG will conduct training sessions with Merced HHS staff focused on the Layers of Strategy and how to root public health communications effort in an overall strategy.

Strategic Communications for HIP-C

For the Health Improvement Partnership – Cuyahoga, Ohio (HIP-C) REACH project, BMSG supports development of the broader HIP-C communications strategy and plan in coordination with the county. BMSG includes two of HIP-C’s focus areas: building stronger relationships between public health and clinical care systems and eliminating health disparities locally.

Strategic Communications Training

Berkeley Media Studies Group will provide strategic communications consultation to the Health Education Council in West Sacramento, which facilitates the Delta & Gold Country TRC for the California Department of Public Health.

Strategic Communications Training CPEDV

Berkeley Media Studies Group will conduct a full-day in-person training on media advocacy and strategic communications messaging for members of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV), including prevention and communication staff, directors, leadership team, peer network and stakeholders.  The key goal of the training is “educating educators” about preventing teen dating violence and the role of schools.

Strategic Consultation to Communities Creating Healthy Environments Program

BMSG works with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Communities Creating Healthy Environments program to see that all of its partners are: 1) aware of the latest food industry marketing practices and 2) equipped to challenge those practices if they interfere with establishing healthy environments.

Strategic Public Health Communications Training

Berkeley media Studies Group will provide technical assistance to Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation and present to its board on the theoretical and practical foundations of strategic communications for public health, with examples from recent campaigns aimed at reducing consumption of sugary beverages.

Talking About Prevention in Minnesota

To help Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grantees and Community Health Boards (CHBs) understand how their most important issues—nutrition, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco—are  framed in the media, BMSG will analyze news coverage on these issues, recommend  how best to frame prevention in the  news context, train SHIP grantees to talk about prevention more effectively, and then reexamine whether SHIP and CHBs' key messages about prevention are included in news coverage.



Talking about Trauma

The Berkeley Media Studies Group continues to explore the limitations of how childhood trauma is currently discussed and to build the capacity of stakeholders to communicate effectively about their work.

Talking About Trauma: ACEsConnection

BMSG is working with ACEsConnection to learn where storytelling, especially journalism— new and traditional—could describe trauma better and to learn how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) leaders talk about it. BMSG will train ACEsConnection community managers and mainstream journalists to tell the story of trauma in a way that policy makers and the general public can understand and use. ACEs refers to toxic stress caused by common childhood traumas that lead to physical, mental, and social health consequences.

The Food Marketing Workgroup

BMSG and the Center for Science in the Public Interest continue convening and coordinating the Food Marketing Workgroup, a network of more than 120 organizations and academic experts in the U.S. working together to reduce the marketing of unhealthful foods and beverages to children and youth.

Tobacco Use Disparities in a Social Justice Context

Berkeley Media Studies Group in partnership with Phil Wilbur will work with the Public Health and Tobacco Policy Center.  The Center is conducting a roundtable meeting presenting tobacco use disparities within a social justice context of which one goal is to articulate New York's social justice rationale for point of sale policies to set a foundation for developing key messages for New York community educators to integrate social justice into their policy work. BMSG will advise on strategies, review presentation, summarize meeting results with draft message media bits as well as assist with development and presentation of final framing brief for NY community educators.

Uncovering the Roots of Health Inequity: Lessons for Health Departments

BMSG is preparing a series of reports for the National Association of City and County Health Officials describing health inequities, the non-biological, and entirely preventable, systemic forces involved in shaping health. The series, part of a project with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Injury Prevention and Control, examines the social justice roots of public health's history for clues on how getting back to those roots can help health departments work more effectively.



University of New England FFS

BMSG will provide the University of New England with technical assistance provisions for digital food marketing survey in schools as well as review survey tools and survey findings, contribute to analysis and written reports.

Violence Is Preventable: Tools for Changing the Public Discourse

This project aims to help key groups in Northern California's 3 most impacted cities describe examples of systems-change violence prevention across sectors. Prevention Institute and BMSG will: develop key messages and materials for violence prevention focused on systems change; analyze regional news coverage of youth violence; develop "talking tools" that demonstrate effective framing; and submit opinion pieces to regional news outlets. This will lay the foundation for Phase II, working with practitioners and advocates to reshape public discourse.

Violence is Preventable: Tools for Changing the Public Discourse, Phase II

BMSG will expand and operationalize narratives around community violence as a preventable public health problem and lay the groundwork for network of stakeholders to shift the discourse. With a clear analysis of news, advocates will better understand how community violence is framed during and after high-profile state and national events – and how to shift frames to include prevention. Through convenings with key stakeholders BMSG will learn about the challenges and opportunities that face prevention advocates working to shape the discourse around violence that will inform the development of media advocacy tools. BMSG will pilot test the tools to be sure the resources can be used to engage with policy makers through the media and highlight multi-sector violence prevention work. The materials and activities from this phase will stand on their own, but also be the foundation for Phase III when BMSG will disseminate a media advocacy toolkit and work with Prevention Institute to establish a media network that is equipped to change local discourse and influence systems-level changes that prevent violence among youth.

Voices for Healthy Kids Food Marketing Workgroup Hub

BMSG, in partnership with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), leads the Marketing Matters hub for the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Voices for Healthy Kids Initiative. BMSG and CSPI provide leadership and coordination; public policy expertise; coalition support with the Food Marketing Workgroup; technical assistance to advocates working on food marketing advocacy campaigns focused on improving restaurant kids' meals and food marketing in schools; and communications support.




What's In A Frame? Framing and Effectively Communicating About Sexual Violence in Missouri

Effective communication strategies can help people see that sexual violence is not inevitable, and can motivate them to become part of solution-focused efforts, whoever and wherever they are. Berkeley Media Studies Group facilitated a training that brought together prevention advocates and university representatives from around Missouri to identify shared framing challenges and build strategic communications skills. During the training participants became familiar with BMSG’s research-informed messaging and framing guides and used them to develop research-informed, values-based messages about preventing sexual violence.

Here's How We're Making a Difference

Advocating for Companies to Stop Advertising Junk Food to Kids

In May of 2015, Dairy Queen dropped soda from its kids’ meals. This action, an important step in reducing food and beverage marketing to kids, came after continued pressure from parents, advocates, and members of the Food Marketing Workgroup, coordinated in part by PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group. Dairy Queen now joins McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Panera Bread and Chipotle in not offering soda as its default beverage for children.

The Food Marketing Workgroup is a network of more than 130 organizations and academic experts working with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantees and the American Heart Association to reverse childhood obesity by focusing its advocacy on competitive foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and food marketing. BMSG provides technical assistance, resources, and avenues for both online and on-the-ground advocacy around the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, food marketing in schools, the predatory marketing of junk food and soda to low-income children and children of color, and more.

Bringing Together Stakeholders to Explore How Industry Marketing Undermines the Health of Feeding Infants and Toddlers

Policies that increase breastfeeding rates and reduce the frequency of formula feeding can significantly impact maternal and child health outcomes. Through research and stakeholder coordination, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) worked to clarify and elevate research and action steps that would increase rates of sustained, exclusive breastfeeding and healthy toddler feeding.

BMSG, with support from other project partners, planned and facilitated a convening to engage stakeholders from across the country in identifying research questions and exploring opportunities for action around infant formula marketing. To support the group, BMSG also created an analysis of social media marketing that promotes infant and toddler formulas to parents, as well as a summary of legal and regulatory mechanisms at both the state and federal level that could protect mothers and children from the infant formula industry’s aggressive marketing. 

Building Healthy Communities Narrative Change Project

The goal of the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Narrative Change Project was to assess how the Budget Our Values campaign, as well as related criminal justice reform and reinvestment issues, appeared in media narratives in four Northern California counties in 2017. The Budget Our Values campaign worked to make the case for investing Proposition 47 savings in prevention, economic development, equity, and local criminal justice reform measures - since often upstream investments in prevention are underfunded, and community resources are directed solely to downstream approaches focused on treatment or punishment.

BMSG analysis examined print and online news, television news, and Twitter posts that appeared in 2017 and found an increase in the media discourse around criminal justice reform and reinvestment. These findings support the value of continued investment in community-level training and support around media advocacy and engagement. 

Changing the Narrative About Gun Violence in California

The discourse about gun violence is often dominated by horrific stories about mass shootings, but BMSG wanted to know how more common types of violence that happen every day appear and how community-level prevention and intervention strategies are portrayed. BMSG analyzed how three common types of gun violence (domestic violence, suicide, and community violence) are framed in California news, which provides a window into the public discourse. Through their analysis, they discovered that: 

  • There are gaps in the narrative about gun violence, particularly around suicide, domestic violence, and how they connect with gun violence. With very few articles about suicide and domestic violence and guns, it may be difficult for audiences to understand how common these types of gun violence are and why preventing them is so important.
  • Specific incidents and individualized framing dominate the news coverage about gun violence in California – which could limit discussion of solutions.
  • Most articles frame gun violence through a criminal justice lens that obscures context, consequences, and communities.
  • The pictures accompanying stories about community and domestic gun violence could reinforce stereotypes about young men of color.


Communicating for Change

The Berkeley Media Studies Group’s Communicating for Change training program helps community health advocates build media advocacy skills to make their case effectively for policy changes in hotly contested public debates. The Communicating for Change curriculum has provided training in core media advocacy skills to 600 California Endowment grantees, including learning to frame issues from a public health perspective, to package the important issue as a newsworthy story, and to argue the case effectively even in the face of opposition.

Following the training series, the Los Angeles County Violence Prevention Coalition Director, Kaile Shilling, reported a series of successful media “hits” that she attributed in large part to how prepared she felt from the training. 

Giving Health Advocates the Tools to Talk About Childhood Trauma

Giving Health Advocates the Tools to Talk About Childhood TraumaAdverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a critical public health issue with implications for every sector of society, but communicating about them can be challenging. In 2017, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) partnered with Kidsdata.org and ACEsConnection to provide a joint training for Northern California advocates to help improve their ability to understand science on ACEs, identify locally-relevant ACEs data, and develop compelling messages about their work. Participants hailed from various government departments and other sectors, including First 5 and local public health departments, county offices of education, and other agencies.

Upon completion of the training, 73% of participants reported that their ability to use data to make their case was either “advanced” or “intermediate/advanced” compared to just 38% from before. One participant shared: “My messaging will be more on point, and I'll be a little better prepared to pivot conversations that might otherwise be derailed.” Participants also remain engaged in efforts to convince decision-makers to invest greater resources in collecting data on ACEs.

Looking for tips on how to communicate effectively with policymakers about ACEs? Read BMSG's blog post.

Helping Cities Reduce Traffic Injuries and Deaths

Traffic fatalities and injuries are preventable, but does the public see them that way? To help the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in its goal to improve traffic safety and promote equitable mobility, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) examined public discourse on the issue and identified framing challenges and opportunities in the campaign for Vision Zero—an international movement rooted in collaboration across sectors to eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries, and to ensure safe, equitable mobility for everybody.

This project, with support from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and in partnership with MIG Communications and InterEthnica, analyzed how the news media portray vehicle crashes and other safety issues. Drawing insights from this analysis, BMSG created a framing brief to help Vision Zero stakeholders frame traffic safety in the context of public health, and also collaborated with the Vision Zero Network to produce two case studies showcasing how other communities have communicated effectively and strategically about policies that foster safe, equitable mobility. 

Helping Community Leaders Understand How the News Affects Racial and Health Equity

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) produced three news analyses as part of the California Endowment’s Spread and Scale initiative to build media awareness among community leaders in California. The analyses also provide recommendations to help advocates push for policy change to advance health and racial equity. Each analysis centered on one social aspect of health: uncovering who gets left out of police violence reports; if the media evoked racial associations in marijuana coverage; and how immigration narratives are framed in the news. BMSG also provided additional media advocacy trainings to leaders in Kern County and Orange County. 

Helping Youth Speak Up

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) helped a group of committed young people from Fresno become more effective spokespeople for reducing school dropout rates, an issue the youth had worked on for years. The group wanted to change the local school district's harsh discipline policies, which drove up suspensions and expulsions and eroded trust. BMSG taught the young advocates how to effectively frame and develop messages for their issue in advance of a hearing before the Fresno Unified School District.

After the young people testified, the district approved an alternative approach to discipline, promising to dedicate a portion of its budget to reiterative justice programs that replace punitive measures with conflict resolution and, ultimately, help keep kids in school.

Implementing Strategic Planning and Technical Assistance Support for an Ohio REACH Partnership

The Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH partnership is working to eliminate health disparities across a range of health issues in six Cleveland neighborhoods and one large section of East Cleveland, aiming to impact over 40,000 residents, many African-Americans.

PHI’s Berkley Media Studies Group (BMSG) worked with the Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH team in developing an overall strategic communication plan to support policy and system change strategies. This included training REACH partners to engage in local advocacy, assisting with development of a policy agenda to support the REACH project strategies and activities, coordinating with REACH teams to develop and write two success stories of local REACH partner efforts, and providing technical support.

Thanks in part to the strategic planning support from BMSG, the Cuyahoga County Ohio REACH team launched a program aimed at increasing access to nutritious food options by developing partnerships in seven targeted neighborhoods with local corner stores, providing a branded healthy store "certification" for these outlets to provide more fruits, vegetables and other healthier fare. They also started a new program to address racial health disparities in hypertension rates among Cuyahoga County residents, which resulted in more than half of 17 participating clinics showing marked improvement in blood pressure control among patients.

Preventing Community Violence by Changing the Media’s Discourse

We must change how we talk about community violence in order to ensure community safety. In conjunction with Prevention Institute, community leaders and violence prevention advocates in Northern California, PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) explored what it will take to change the discourse on violence, with a focus on the news media.

First, BMSG and partners worked with community violence prevention leaders to identify specific, solutions-oriented frames missing from the current discourse on violence. BMSG then conducted a news analysis of how those frames appeared in California papers from 2013-2015. Using this novel methodology, BMSG evaluated news from different sectors to identify opportunities for journalists to elevate community violence prevention. This research was then presented at convenings with community leaders to get their input and draft additional tools for action.

BMSG’s research uncovered trends in how community violence and safety are framed in California news—specifically, that a solutions-oriented frame is dwarfed by sensationalist coverage of individual crimes; that community safety news focuses on solutions, including preventive solutions; that police dominate the coverage but community residents are becoming more visible; and that an emerging frame in the coverage focuses on racism as a root cause of violence. These findings lay the groundwork for shifting the discourse around violence and elevating prevention. See the full research.

Providing Messaging Insight and Media Tips for Soda Tax Advocates

In 2014, voters in the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco, California, were asked to decide whether to place an excise tax on sugary drinks sold within their borders. Berkeley made history when it passed the nation's first tax on sugary drinks, despite an aggressive anti-tax campaign from the beverage industry. San Francisco's measure was approved by the majority of voters but failed to reach the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Given the prominence of these two policy battles and the likelihood that more will follow, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group conducted an ethnographic content analysis of news articles, social media posts, and campaign materials related to the soda tax initiatives in Berkeley and San Francisco. Their research explores characteristics of the debates around the measures, and offers insights to future soda tax proponents. Read the brief and related resources.

Studying Digital and Target Marketing to Advance Equity for Vulnerable Young People

Working in collaboration with the Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change and Unidos US, Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) works to coordinate research, action and advocacy aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating junk food marketing targeted at children and youth of color, as well as low-income kids and youth.

Looking at websites and other resources, BMSG analyzed how advocates were—or weren’t—talking about targeted marketing, and found that while many documents address marketing to children in general, few explicitly focus on targeted marketing or include images of children or families of color. Researchers then produced a framing brief to help advocates more effectively discuss targeted junk food marketing from a racial and health equity lens.

Read the brief to learn more about the findings.

Supporting Healthy Options

PHI research, evaluation and media advocacy played a key role in the passage of new taxes on sugary beverages around the country in 2016, which will raise millions to support children and healthier communities. Research by Dr. Lynn Silver, as well as PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group, evaluated existing soda taxes, helped counter misleading messages from the soda industry and framed the conversation around public health.

Teaching Social Advocacy in Public Health Programs

PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) helped to create a curriculum and resource guide for public health programs to teach social advocacy, an area of training that degree-granting programs in public health rarely provide. 




Training California Communities to Effectively Frame and Communicate Public Health Campaigns

In 2015 - 2016, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) provided media advocacy training and technical assistance to 135 selected grantees of the California Wellness Foundation across the state. Through multiple in-person trainings, participants developed skills around framing and messaging, received support with customer relationship and database management, learned tools for effective communication with collaborative organizations, and identified proactive and reactive strategies to create media coverage about their work. 

Following the in-person trainings, BMSG delivered the Winter on the Web series, covering a range of topics designed to help grantees further develop their strategic communications capacity. The demand for the customized TA was so high that BMSG provide extended availability to meet groups’ needs, and continues to provide tools and resources for the cohort.