Q: Why are news outlets suddenly targeting the vaping industry?

Credit: Google


It may look like the news outlets are unfairly ganging up on the vaping industry, but in fact, journalists are behaving rationally and responsibly in their sweeping coverage of this story.  

The news industry has an enormously influential role when it comes to public health issues. The recent deaths attributed to vaping and the ongoing potential health risks now associated with vaping automatically make this a newsworthy story. But if you consider the number of universal news drivers this story features, and the other factors that come into play when determining what is news like interest vs. importance, audience, competition, algorithms, and platform, you realize this is not just a good story–it’s a whale of a story.

As we discussed in class, more drivers mean a bigger story. This story is timely and important because of the public health risk. There’s also plenty of human interest (people’s stories), change (new developments), magnitude (in terms of numbers/data) and relevance (significant impact and audience interest) given how many people have been hospitalized and continue to vape.  It’s a top story because it is both important and interesting and news that consumers both want and need to know. In fact, a keyword search of “vaping lung disease symptoms” is up more than 70,000 percent in the last month, considered a breakout because of the tremendous increase.

Credit: Google

When you have a story this big, no news outlet can afford to ignore it, even if it falls outside its traditional beat. Case in point, the Wall Street Journal typically doesn’t cover health issues in the same depth or frequency as more general news outlets, but it published a story about the first death linked to vaping three weeks ago and continues to cover aspects of this story nearly every day.

Finally, the human drama and heart-wrenching visuals of this story make it well suited to all platforms. Photos of young people hooked up to life support like this one from cnn.com and interviews with perfectly healthy young people suddenly stricken by this illness are just too compelling for most news outlets to pass up.