Reporting Panics

Module code: MS3024
Module co-ordinator: Dr Julian Matthews

Module outline

Today, ideas of panics, risks and fears - for example, those associated with crime, immigration, environmental despoliation, the nuclear industry, food processing and food safety or scientific advances in bio-genetic engineering - are subject to intense media attention and speculation.

But how exactly has journalism represented these? Do journalists simply sensationalise and profit from 'doom and gloom' mongering or perhaps they play a more responsible role in alerting us to associated hazards? Can the news media play a constructive part in public campaigns designed to inform, educate and change 'risk' behaviours?

This module invites you to consider the multiple roles performed by the mass media in relation to the communication of hazards in today's so-called risk society. We will explore the various ways that the news media communicate risk and consider the possible impacts that risk communication has on the media audience, particularly in terms of their understanding and ability to engage with such messages.

Throughout the module you will be expected to read a number of published case-studies and reflect on issues of analysis and, importantly, methodology. Issues of method and methodology, therefore, inform the module throughout, not only in relation to your applied discussion but also when considering the respective strengths and weaknesses of the various studies read across the module.

Topics covered

  • Theories on risk, fear and panics and the media
  • Research into the role that journalists, experts and audiences play in the production and reception of risk, panics and fears
  • Case study investigations into the topics such as health, children, immigration, drugs and crime, food scares, the new science of genetics and biotechnology


  • 11 hours of lectures
  • 22 hours of seminars
  • 1 hour of tutorials
  • 116 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 2,500 words (70%)
  • Written appraisal, 1,500 words (30%)
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