This paper presents findings in an ongoing project examining television news coverage of the environment. Research suggests that the media, in particular television, are the primary and often only source people will turn to for information about environmental issues. The current paper focuses on the sources relied upon in the coverage of global warming on network news. The sources selected for information could be significant determinants of the media’s potential ability to prime viewers about the nature of particular issues. Journalists tend to use the most available outlets when seeking information for environmental issues (Davis, 1995).


Specifically, this paper looked at who gets to speak for the environment on televised network newscasts and whether they advance technical or cultural arguments. Technical-cultural distinctions become important for global warming in that people are more likely to practice environmentally sound behavior if advocacy messages are simple, clear, and understandable. Prior research on sources notes that while media often present environmental information from experts, the motivation and background of said individuals are often glossed over (Ward, 1992).


Findings indicate that most sources are scientists and that most stories contained a technical focus with emphasis on scientific reports, computer models, and predictions of risk. The key finding is that the best (ones in which the public actually learns something) environmental stories appear to be those featuring scientists. Thus, it behooves scientists to become more pro-active, get in touch with media outlets, answer their phones when reporters call, and be ready to speak within a cultural framework that simplifies complicated issues into a language that the public can understand.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science in the news
The potential impact of televised news stories about global warming

Michael E. Nitz   School of Communication, University of Idaho

Sharon Jarvis   School of Communication, University of Idaho

This paper presents findings in an ongoing project examining television news coverage of the environment. Research suggests that the media, in particular television, are the primary and often only source people will turn to for information about environmental issues. The current paper focuses on the sources relied upon in the coverage of global warming on network news. The sources selected for information could be significant determinants of the media’s potential ability to prime viewers about the nature of particular issues. Journalists tend to use the most available outlets when seeking information for environmental issues (Davis, 1995).


Specifically, this paper looked at who gets to speak for the environment on televised network newscasts and whether they advance technical or cultural arguments. Technical-cultural distinctions become important for global warming in that people are more likely to practice environmentally sound behavior if advocacy messages are simple, clear, and understandable. Prior research on sources notes that while media often present environmental information from experts, the motivation and background of said individuals are often glossed over (Ward, 1992).


Findings indicate that most sources are scientists and that most stories contained a technical focus with emphasis on scientific reports, computer models, and predictions of risk. The key finding is that the best (ones in which the public actually learns something) environmental stories appear to be those featuring scientists. Thus, it behooves scientists to become more pro-active, get in touch with media outlets, answer their phones when reporters call, and be ready to speak within a cultural framework that simplifies complicated issues into a language that the public can understand.

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