Communication strategies in Spanish online newspapers during the food scare concerning listeria in meat


On 22 August 2019, the Government of Spain issued an international alert after detecting meat that had been contaminated by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, originating in a company in Seville. The Andalusia regional government had already raised the alarm a week before. The alert was not deactivated until 17 October. Over these two months, the listeria outbreak affected 222 people (6 of them in Germany), caused 3 deaths and 7 miscarriages.

The Spanish digital press devoted particular attention to this crisis that, in addition to the aforementioned health consequences, also had an economic effect, as three meat-produce companies were affected, which raised ensuing concern in the food sector.

This paper will analyse how 5 of the main Spanish online newspapers -,,, and - tackled the listeria crisis. According to data from ComScore, in September 2019, these were among the top 10 most-read headlines in Spain. The first three outlets are the digital version of three of the main daily printed newspapers, whilst the latter two are “digital natives”.

Over the two months that the crisis lasted, these newspapers published a total of 620 texts on the topic. The vast majority of them - 594 - were news items, while the remaining 26 were op-eds.

Using framing theory (Tankard, 2001; Vreese, 2005, etc.), and contributions from agenda-setting theory (McCombs & Evatt, 1995; Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007…), this paper analyses the prevailing frames during the food scare, and how they evolved. It also studies aspects such as text authorship, main sources used to draft them and sections where they were located.

When tackling this research, other prior studies have been taken into consideration on communication concerning food scares, such as Barnet (2011), Yi et al. (2019, Kim, Jang & Noh (2018) or Boatemaa et al. (2019), to mention just a few.

Hypotheses that the study intends to compare include the prevalence of governmental sources over scientific community sources or anyone actually affected by the listeria outbreak, or how dominant frames evolved over the weeks, with an insignificant presence in the media of a “mitigating” focus seeking to take the edge off the severity of the crisis.