Research Article: Media portrayal of illness-related medical crowdfunding: A content analysis of newspaper articles in the United States and Canada

Date Published: April 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Blake Murdoch, Alessandro R. Marcon, Daniel Downie, Timothy Caulfield, Quinn Grundy.


Medical crowdfunding is a growing phenomenon, and newspapers are publishing on the topic. This research analyzed how illness-related crowdfunding and crowdfunding campaigns have recently been represented in newspapers that are popular in the United States and Canada.

A sample of 336 articles about medical crowdfunding published during the two year time period from October 7, 2015 to October 6, 2017 was produced using a Factiva search of the English language newspapers with the largest Canadian and United States readership. A coding frame was developed for and applied to the sample to analyze content.

Articles portrayed crowdfunding campaigns positively (43.75%) and neutrally (47.92%), but rarely negatively (4.76%). Articles mostly mentioned the crowdfunding phenomenon with a neutral characterization (93.75%). Few (8.63%) articles mentioned ethical issues with the phenomenon of crowdfunding. Ailments most commonly precipitating the need for a campaign included cancer (49.11%) and rare disease (as stated by the article, 36.01%). Most articles (83.04%) note where donations and contributions can be made, and 59.23% included a hyperlink to an online crowdfunding campaign website. Some articles (26.49%) mentioned a specific monetary goal for the fundraising campaign. Of the 70 (20.83%) articles that indicated the treatment sought may be inefficacious, was unproven, was experimental or lacked regulatory approval, 56 (80.00%) noted where contributions can be made and 36 (51.43%) hyperlinked directly to an online crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding campaigns are portrayed positively much more often than negatively, many articles promote campaigns for unproven therapies, and links directly to crowdfunding campaign webpages are present in most articles. Overall, crowdfunding is often either implicitly or explicitly endorsed.

Partial Text

Over the past several years, the flow of funds through online crowdfunding has grown at an explosive rate.[1,2] This has coincided with the rapid growth of companies providing crowdfunding platforms. For example, GoFundMe was valued at approximately $600 million when it struck a venture capital deal in 2015,[3] and has since been expanding: in January 2017, the company acquired the platform CrowdRise,[3] and in April 2018 it acquired YouCaring.[4] Although major uses of crowdfunding include charity and entrepreneurship, personal campaigns relating to health concerns are common online,[5] with platforms specifically targeting this in their advertising.[6,7]

In order to create a sample of news articles for analysis, we undertook a systematic search on the Factiva database ( for the two year time period of October 7, 2015 to October 6, 2017. As noted, interest in crowdfunding has been intensifying in recent years. This time frame allowed for the capture of a dataset that reflects the media discourse over this period. Factiva is a news source database owned by Dow Jones with almost 33,000 sources including most major North American newspapers,[28] in which search inquiries can be performed and corresponding text—in this case, articles—can be downloaded. Search terms were selected through an iterative process to capture the widest possible net of illness-related crowdfunding articles, while excluding the vast number of articles focused on other topics, such as crowdfunding for violent physical trauma or business-related crowdfunding. The final search terms included the following parameters: the presence of one of: “crowdfunding”, “crowdsourcing”, “gofundme”, “”, “youcaring”, “”, “justgiving”, “”, “fundrazr”, “”, or “”; AND the presence of one of “disease”, “illness” or “cancer”; AND the presence of one of “health”, “treatment*”, “transplant*”, “drug*”, or “medication*”; but NOT “crash”, “accident”, “stabbing”, “shooting” or “funeral”.

See Fig 1 for a sampling flow chart and breakdown of articles’ main topics.

In our data set, the crowdfunding phenomenon was largely portrayed neutrally and the associated discussion was usually secondary to the common focus on individuals suffering from significant medical conditions. Generally, there was little critique or analysis of the phenomenon of crowdfunding and very little negative press. When crowdfunding campaigns were covered in more depth they were largely portrayed in a positive manner. Overall, crowdfunding was often either implicitly or explicitly endorsed.




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