Khadija Ejaz

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Communication Sciences and Disorders

First Advisor

Leigh M. Moscowitz


The central concern of this multi-method research project was to investigate newspaper coverage of the controversial brain death case of Jahi McMath. This represents the first study of sense-making of the case in the news media, positioning it at the intersection of science communication and critical qualitative inquiry. First, framing theory was used to guide a textual analysis of 81 newspaper articles from high-circulation newspapers in California. This revealed four frames that first created uncertainty about brain death, thereby permitting two competing frames of Jahi being alive and also being dead to co-exist before merging into a frame that further lay blame for the confusion on science itself. These findings were then used to inform in-depth interviews with two groups of people: the journalists who had written these news articles, and the experts who had been quoted in those articles. Their responses provided insight into the factors that influenced the creation of the previously identified frames – the involvement of multiple journalists, the dynamic of conflict, financial and professional pressures, outside influences, suspicions of racial and economic oppression, and a perception of scientific disagreement about brain death. The interviews also allowed experts to weigh in on the coverage and gave both experts and journalists a chance to describe their relationship with each other in this case. Experts did not all agree about the newsworthiness of the story, perceived the coverage as haphazard, and discussed the impact of the story on expertise. Experts and journalists also expressed asymmetrical need of and satisfaction with each other but remained aware of their relationship. These findings are important because they highlight the effect that the coverage of complex scientific concepts such as death has on the communication of science and its status in a society mounting increasing resistance to expertise and journalism.


© 2019, Khadija Ejaz