Public Broadcasting, Media Engagement, and 2-1-1


“Public Broadcasting, Media Engagement, and 2-1-1: Using Mass Communication to Increase the Use of Social Services,” Dhavan V. Shah, Douglas M. McLeod, Hernando Rojas, Benjamin G. Sayre, Emily Vraga, Rosanne M. Scholl, Clive Jones, and Amy Shaw. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 43, S443–S449, December, 2012.



Background: The 2008–2009 subprime mortgage crisis was catastrophic, not only for the global economy but for families across the social spectrum. The resultant economic upheaval threatened the livelihoods, well-being, and health of many citizens, who were often unsure where to turn for help. At this critical juncture, public broadcasting stations worked to connect viewers to support resources through 2-1-1.

Purpose: This study was designed to evaluate the ability of public broadcasting to increase the use of information and referral services. Methods: Autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) modeling and regression analysis document the relationship between public broadcasting initiatives and 2-1-1 call volume in 35 highly affected U.S. markets. Time-series data from St. Louis MO were collected and analyzed in 2008. Station-level data from across the nation were collected during 2009–2010 and analyzed in 2010.

Results: ARIMA results show a distinct linkage between the timing and duration of Channel 9 in St. Louis MO (KETC) programming and a subsequent (approximately 400%) increase in 2-1-1 calls regarding fınancial services and assistance. Regression path analysis not only found evidence of this same effect nationally but also showed that differences in the broadcaster’s orientation and approach mediated effects. Specifıcally, stations’ orientations toward engagement were mediated through strong outreach strategies to increase 2-1-1 use.

Conclusions: This study documents the ability of public broadcasting to help citizens in need connect with social resources through 2-1-1 services. By focusing attention on the mortgage crisis and its attendant consequences, and by publicizing 2-1-1 services as a gateway to supportive resources, public broadcasters fostered linkages between those in need and social resources. Moreover, the level of a station’s commitment to engaging citizens had a strong bearing on the success of its programming initiatives and community partnerships with organizations such as 2-1-1.