The Failure of Public Relations during a Pandemic Outbreak: Using Actor-Network Theory to Highlight the News Media as a complex mediator

Aylesworth-Spink, S. 2017. The Failure of Public Relations during a Pandemic Outbreak: Using Actor-Network Theory to Highlight the News Media as a complex mediator. Public Relations Journal. 11 (2), pp. 1-17.

TitleThe Failure of Public Relations during a Pandemic Outbreak: Using Actor-Network Theory to Highlight the News Media as a complex mediator
AuthorsAylesworth-Spink, S.
Abstract

This study explores the construction of public information among public relations practitioners and members of the media during a public health crisis. Sixteen public relations practitioners in the Canadian public health system, medical leaders and journalists were interviewed directly after the first wave of the 2009 influenza pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 virus, more commonly known as “swine flu.” The study highlights uncommon challenges faced by public relations professionals during a public health crisis owing to hidden associations between the multiple human and, perhaps unusually, nonhuman actors involved in an outbreak narrative. The main finding of this study is that public relations practitioners chose the media as a vehicle to compel specific public actions—immunization and other self-care measures—yet failed to recognize the media as a complex mediator with specific interests and motivations. This finding is illustrated through Actor-Network Theory (ANT), a social theory that treats all actors—people, objects and organizations—in networks as equals because to understand outcomes, actors are less important than their actions. ANT is a useful methodological concept because it draws analytical attention to public relations and media practices and behaviors normally viewed as commonplace and thus taken for granted. Given the trends in pandemics and other serious public health outbreaks such as Ebola and West Nile Virus, public relations practitioners can consider using this theory to examine their crisis communications plans and related activities. 

Keywordsactor-network theory; public communications; public health communications; crisis communications; public relations; pandemic communications; non-human actors
JournalPublic Relations Journal
Journal citation11 (2), pp. 1-17
ISSN1942-4604
Year2017
PublisherPublic Relations Society of America
Web address (URL)https://prjournal.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/Failure-of-PR-in-Pandemic-2-2.pdf
Publication dates
Published31 Oct 2017
LicenseCC BY-NC 4.0

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