Report finds 'lack of knowledge' in social work coverage

Four in ten newspaper reports about social work breached the PCC editors’ code of practice and more than half were negative, according to research by a trade magazine.

The Reed Business Information weekly Community Care sampled 345 articles published in 13 national newspapers in the first three months of 2009.

The findings, released as part of the magazine’s Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign, claimed four in ten articles failed to give all the parties mentioned in the story a right of reply.

Researchers found reports on social work used mainly “hostile” language and showed “a lack of knowledge” about the role of social workers.

Community Care deputy editor Emma Maier said the research highlighted “a significant gulf” in the media coverage of social work.

“There is a lack of coverage depicting the day-to-day realities of social work and social work success stories,” she said.

“Social workers must get support from their managers to talk to the media, to better explain what social work is.”

The research found that 61 per cent of stories were about a crisis or serious cases. Only eight per cent of the 345 articles surveyed were positive, 38 per cent were considered objective and 58 per cent negative.

The highest proportion of negative stories featured in The Mail on Sunday, with 82 per cent.

Community Care said several tabloids failed to give all parties a fair opportunity to reply to allegations, a requirement of the PCC editors’ code of practice.

‘Hostile words’

Coverage of social work focused almost entirely on children’s services, according to the research.

The most commonly used description of social work was “failed” or “failure” and the second “bullied” or “bullying”.

“These descriptions are very damaging; particularly in combination and they demonstrate hostility from sections of the media,” the magazine said.

Negative words were used to describe social work nearly five times as often as positive or sympathetic words.

Researchers highlighted 90 negative words used 172 times, compared with 24 positive or sympathetic words used 34 times.

A spokesperson for Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers in the UK, criticised the tabloids for “whipping up public indignation” through simplistic reporting of complex issues.

They told Community Care: “Social workers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This sort of reporting has a hugely damaging impact on morale and recruitment.”

Community Care yesterday announced the Guardian as the winner of its first ever media awards, highlighting the best coverage of social work in the national press.

The judges said: “This newspaper outshone its rivals with an impressive spread of well-informed, balanced and engaging coverage of social care, in news, features and opinion articles, mainly written by a core group of specialist journalists who know the field inside out.”

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