Journalism and Mass Communications, College of


First Advisor

Michael Stricklin

Date of this Version


Document Type



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Journalism and Mass Communications, Under the Supervision of Professor Michael Stricklin. Lincoln, Nebraska: May,2003

Copyright 2003 Heather L. Graff


Less than six months after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, in five gay men. In the United States, AIDS was first diagnosed among gay men in New York City and San Francisco. There were several media trends for AIDS coverage in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, AIDS was mainly thought of as a gay-related disease. In the mid- l 980s, AIDS cases were found in hemophiliacs, intravenous drug users and "celebrities." Coverage in the late 1980s focused on heterosexuals and the need for mandatory AIDS testing in the United States. AIDS first hit a segment of the population who usually is not covered by the press. News coverage continues to differ depending on changing editors and media agendas. After Rock Hudson announced that he had AIDS in the summer of 1985, both the government and the media started taking notice of AIDS. But from the analysis of The New York Times and the Omaha World-Herald, it seemed the news about AIDS began appearing in newspapers as more people began contracting AIDS. Media coverage suggested there is a connection between Hudson's announcement and the government's response to AIDS. Others have broken up coverage in the early 1980s into three or four categories. Instead, there are five distinct eras - discovery, scientific, wonder, human-interest and political - three of which are still being reported on today. Hudson's announcement that he had AIDS is a link, which occurred after an initial stage, when reporters didn't report on AIDS, and a scientific stage, when reporters reported on the scientific aspects of AIDS. Between Hudson's announcement and his death, the media started taking notice of AIDS. For example, the media started interviewing people who became involved in the fight against the spread of AIDS. After Hudson's announcement, reporters started exploring the more human-interest side of AIDS, in which they interviewed people with and affected by AIDS, and the political stage, when the government started allocating resources and setting policy in reference to AIDS.