Background: Previous researchers have reported that newspapers were useful adjuncts to unintentional injury surveillance efforts in a nearby southern state. The current study sought to determine whether newspaper accounts of intentional injuries could provide a reliable source of primary or secondary surveillance data.
Methods: Newspaper accounts of assaults, homicides, suicides, and rapes occurring in Jefferson County, Alabama, between January 1, 1991, and December 31, 1991, were compared with similar data from official governmental agencies whose responsibility it is to investigate and/or document the occurrence, details, and characteristics of violent events resulting in death or injury.
Results: Newspapers greatly underreported suicides, rapes, and assaults, and reported firearms-related incidents in numbers that substantially exceeded their actual occurrence.
Conclusions: Much information of potential value for injury surveillance purposes appears to be excluded from newspapers by editorial process and policy. Thus, newspapers are neither a valid nor reliable source for intentional injury surveillance purposes.