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From Beating the Odds to Changing the Odds: Recommendations for Journalists Covering Early Childhood

2018 | Berkeley Media Studies Group

The decisions we, as a society, make today about how to support early childhood development will influence the future health, educational, and economic prospects of entire populations. Robust, well-reported news coverage can inform and improve the policy decisions we make about early childhood, and so news coverage is an important part of the public conversation about this crucial time in a person's lifespan. 

The media can elevate issues, influence how the public and policymakers perceive them and set the stage for a policy response. Journalists, editors, and op-ed contributors make decisions on a daily basis, consciously or unconsciously, about how to frame issues like early childhood. Aspects of framing include the language used, perspectives included or left out, sources quoted, information highlighted, and the potential solutions that are reported and considered. Early childhood development — and the crucial role of journalism in covering it — is important not simply because of warm, fuzzy feelings for little kids, but because of growing insights, from multiple bodies of science, showing that what happens from pre-conception into early childhood has a profound impact on health outcomes into and throughout adulthood.

This holds true whether researchers examine the lifelong impacts of childhood trauma, the multigenerational effects of neighborhood conditions, or the societal benefits of early education.

How, then, can journalists incorporate complex scientific findings into news stories about children that are typically focused on immediate events? To begin to answer that question, PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group examined existing news coverage on early childhood, spoke with journalists whose stories stood out as exemplars of nuanced reporting on the issue, and convened a small group of experienced journalists to discuss the challenges of reporting comprehensively on early childhood and to generate recommendations for best practices. 

This research explores how reporting can reflect the full continuum of human development and opportunities to improve conditions in which children are born, grow, and develop. This report explores a public health framework for understanding the emerging science on early childhood, and then assess what that means for news coverage. 

"We offer our recommendations against the backdrop of a challenging time for journalism," write BMSG researchers. "As a society, we rely on journalists to find the stories that help us navigate and make decisions about our world. The stakes are high, and we believe solid journalism will make a difference in the health of future generations. The recommendations we present are a starting point."

Read the full report


Daphne Marvel, BA Laura Nixon, MPH Lori Dorfman, DrPH Fernando Quintero, BA Sarah Han, BA, Liana Winett, DrPH Lawrence Wallack, DrPH,

Produced through PHI's:

Berkeley Media Studies Group