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Media and the Environment Online
Transcript of Media and the Environment Online
Important to differentiate Traditional News Media from online media
MSM - TV, radio and print - is restricted by News Hole
News Hole is the amount of space available for a news story
i.e.Time during a broadcast or number of column inches in a newspaper.
As environmental stories have become more complicated, the news holes have been shrinking - newspapers cutting number of pages and number of staff.
Shrinking news holes puts pressure on journalists to simply issues to make them fit the limited space.
The result has been an expansion of online environmental news because the online environment has far fewer space constraints.
Media Depictions of Nature
By the 1960s, news stories and images of environmental issues became regular features.
The image of the earth from space embodied the idea that we live on a small planet with finite resources.
From Earth Day 1970 to 1989, there was a steady rise in the media coverage of environmental news.
1989 was the year of the Exxon Valdez oil spill
This spill resulted in major news coverage in 1989, a peak of 774 minutes of "Big 3" news coverage - ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Years following the spill saw a decline in coverage, even after the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, a more pro-environment president than either Bush or Reagan.
By 1996, the Tyndall Report documented only 174 minutes of major TV news coverage of environmental stories.
In a study looking at environmental themes non-news TV shows, Shanahan and McComas looked at primetime programs in ABC, NBC and CBS from 1991-1997.
They found that out of 510 episodes, only 72 references to environmental issues occurred.
These references lasted anywhere from 15 seconds to 6 minutes.
If you added together all the environmental references - positive or negative - from '91-'97, they add up to 2 hours and 22 minutes, less than an average football game.
With the election of GWBush, coverage increased a bit, until 9/11, when terrorism began to dominate the news.
Since 2006 - there has been a resurgence of news coverage.
"Green" stories are appearing in all types of media, from HGTV to news magazines to blogs.
"Outside's" 2008 green issue sold 30% more than previous year's issue.
Concerns about climate change have been driving news stories, combined with an increase in "green" business news.
Meisner's 2005 study of Canadian Media
Nature as Victim
Nature as Sick Patient
Nature as Problem (Threat)
Nature as Resource
Looked at newspapers, magazines and primetime TV shows for one year.
Found wide range of depictions of nature, but positive images outweighed negative images by 3 to 1.
Nature as tame and useful, in need of human care
Suggests narrow range of human possible human relationships with Nature
Anthropocentric / Resourcist View of Nature
primarily serves the interests of those who benefit from the exploitation of Nature.
Why certain portrayals of Nature and not others?
Ease of portraying the story
unobtrusive - stories are not easy to link to daily lives of audience.
Unobtrusive Environmental Threats
News media often rely on events to cover long term issues.
This creates a dynamic where individual stories serve as stand-ins for larger issues.
One-time events can be attributed to individuals as oppsed to a systemic problem - ie: drunk Captain Hazelwood.
Forces that Shape the News
1) Political Economy
4) Media Frames
5) Norms of Objectivity and Balance
1) Political Economy
This idea refers to the economic interests of the owners to sell papers or gain viewers/listeners.
Major news outlets are owned by multinational corporations who also own other businesses - energy companies, paper mills, real estate, etc.
Editors *may* feel pressure to report stories that ensure a favorable business climate.
Example: GE and NBC's coverage of PCBs in the Hudson River
Corbett argues that newsrooms have a form of "social control" where reporters know what they can can cannot cover.
This is the idea that editors and managers decide what stories get covered.
1) "Unobtrusive" stories are hard to fit into news format
2) Science behind stories is difficult for reporters and hard to translate into common language
These problems have resulted in the rise of internet hubs of environmental news and information where skilled reporters concentrate on difficult stories and track these stories over a long period of time.
Another way to think about newsworthiness is to use the term, "news values."
"If it bleeds, it leads"
Examples of news values that serve as critieria for selecting and framing news stories:
Conflict is a very influential news value
loggers vs. tree huggers
scientists vs. skeptics
By over-emphasizing conflict, stories get framed around winners and losers and a "battle" as opposed to understanding the issues that sparked the struggle.
Anderson found enviro news to be:
Require strong visuals
Connected to 24 hour news cycle
Frame: "The cognitive maps or patterns of interpretation that people use to organize their understanding of reality." (Goffman)
"The central organizing themes . . . that connect different semantic elements of a news story into a coherent whole to suggest what is at issue.:
Example of the USA Today mercury story
Stakeholders often work to change the framing of a story.
Shift from "jungles" to "rainforests" and "swamps" to "wetlands" demonstrates the positive environmental reframing that has occurred in recent years.
Norms of Objectivity and Balance
This is the goal of balancing information and avoiding the biases of the reporter.
In practice, objectivity is difficult as bias is introduced at every stage of the news production process, from story selection to placement to quoted voices to choice of facts.
Critics argue that objectivity is a form of consensus about what is important, and that consensus "belongs to those with the power to make it."
Balance - attempt to present "both sides" of an issue
Often, issues have many sides and not all sides have equivalent data to support the position.
Climate change example - puts skeptics on equal footing with 1000s of scientists and results in "informational bias."
News Media and the Environment Online
Rise of an alternative public sphere
Response to the constraints and limitations of MSM
News services and blogs
Increasingly, MSM journalists are using blogs to supplement their work. An example is NYT's Andrew Revkin's blog, "Dot Earth"
Environmental News Services
Designed to offer resources to the network of journalists working on specialized topics.
This is the area of communcation research that attempts to measure the impacts of media messages
Cox identifies 3 areas:
Direct Transmission Model
Narrative Framing and Cultivation
Early model that said messages had a direct effect on audiences.
Has since been nuanced to look more at changes in audience attitudes and then how those attitudes may or may not result in behavior change.
Move away from individual perceptions to acknowledgement that news media influence what stories dominate public attention.
There is strong evidence to suggest that media coverage explains the importance of an issue in public opinion, it does not account for what to "think" about the issue.
Narrative Framing/Cultivation Analysis
"Media discourse is part of the process by which individuals construct meaning."
Environmental information is never communicated as "facts" - rather those facts are assembled into stories.
Earth First Redwood Summer Example
Cultivation Analysis: Theory of storytelling - repeated exposure to a set of messages is likely to produce agreement in the audience with the opinions expressed in those messages.
Shanahan and McComas found heavy TV viewers to have lower levels of environmental concern.
Lack of environmental coverage/narrative = symbolic annihilation
Fox News Global Warming Memo
Question of who is to blame?
Mothers who eat fish?
or power companies that burn coal?