Reporting trends of spinal cord injury research representation: a media content analysis

Matthew Kehn, M.P.P., Thilo Kroll, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal
Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 121–128, April 2011

Published Online: November 01, 2010




Over the past few decades, medical and technological advances in rehabilitation have improved the lives of people with spinal cord injury (SCI). More recently, promises of embryonic stem cell research has made finding a cure for SCI a real possibility, and the media and public have seemingly focused accordingly. Examining media reporting trends of SCI research can help interested researchers, clinicians, and policy makers understand how such research is framed for the public.


We sought to identify potential differences in reporting trends between rehabilitation-focused and cure-focused SCI research and to juxtapose those trends with a timeline of other news events.


LexisNexis search was performed on 5 U.S. newspapers to identify articles on SCI research between 1998 and 2007. Eligible articles were reviewed and data extracted including type and context of research, referenced institutions, quoted individuals, and other cited news events.


The search identified 356 articles on SCI research; 80% were cure focused and mostly referenced in the context of funding or promotion, and 11% were rehabilitation focused and were mostly referenced in the context of ongoing conduction or application of findings. Commonly cited news events included President Bush’s 2001 federal funding restriction on embryonic stem cell research and the injury and death of Christopher Reeve.


Research focused on curing SCI has received more attention by some print media than research aimed at rehabilitating SCI. The context in which each is referenced differs significantly. Cure-focused research may have benefited from a stronger and more prominent coalition of advocates, its political and controversial nature, and the existence of reporting “triggers.”