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Journalistic Norms – 
Environmental Issues 
Lecture 6 – by Paige Brown 
#SciCommLSU 
Paige Brown & Zeynep Altinay
History of Science News Coverage 
 Early 1900s: science journalism was characterized by a ‘gee-whiz’ 
and translational m...
History of Science News Coverage 
 1990s: Return to a more critical stance of reporting on science. 
 2000s: 
 Rise of ...
History of Environmental 
News Coverage 
 1960s: Corporate PR hides 
degree of industry pollution, etc. 
 By early 1970s...
History of Environmental News Coverage 
 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill ”was covered by television as a 
human-interest sto...
Today’s Environmental News Coverage 
 Today “almost every news reporter may be called on to cover 
breaking stories about...
Why does it matter how US 
media covers climate change? 
 US is a top emitter of greenhouse gases that lead to climate 
c...
Carbon Cycle (US Dept of Energy)
Ways we don’t want the media 
to cover climate change: 
 A subject of scientific uncertainty or even dispute 
 Scientifi...
News values & environmental reporting 
 “In their coverage of environment risk the [TV] networks are 
guided more by the ...
Traditional Journalistic Norms 
 Objectivity 
 Fairness 
 Accuracy 
 Balance 
*Note: New media may be changing some of...
News Values 
Factors of Newsworthiness 
 Size, Scale or Scope of the Event 
 Threshold, Magnitude 
 Conflict/Negativity...
News Values 
Factors of Newsworthiness 
 Time 
 Recency, Timeliness 
 Proximity 
 Nearness (might be geographical, but...
News Values 
Factors of Newsworthiness 
 Personalization 
 Showing the human side of an issue or event, Personalities, F...
The case of ‘prefabricated’ stories 
in science 
Bad Science in the Headlines: 
http://embor.embopress.org/content/7/12/11...
The Embargo System 
 “an embargo is when a journal, researcher or 
public information officer (PIO) gives reporters a 
co...
Example Embargo Policy
Embargoes – More Reading 
 The Pros and Cons of Embargoes: 
http://www.scilogs.com/communication_breakdown/embargo-pros- ...
News Values applied to Science 
 What makes any particular story about a scientific discovery or a 
scientific process ne...
Badenschier, F., & Wormer, H. (2012). Issue 
Selection in Science Journalism: Towards a 
Special Theory of News Values for...
“This is a very 
cool study and 
demonstrates 
what many of us 
have been 
saying—that we 
will get surprises.” 
http://ne...
Shoemaker, P. J. (2006). News and 
newsworthiness: A commentary. 
Communications, 31(1), 105-111. 
 “News content distrac...
Science OF News Values 
 News factors do not serve exclusively as journalistic criteria, but 
as human selection criteria...
Analyze This 
http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-antarctic-sea-ice-20140830- 
story.html#page=1 [Link] or http://ow.ly/...
Analyze This 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/06/climate-change-children-health-nature- 
outdoors_n_5761906.html [Li...
Analyze This 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/29/brain-eating-ameba- 
Pair up. 
now-in-louisiana...
News Values vs. 
Environmental Science 
 Many news factors, as well as external factors such as 
competition, commercial ...
Bypassing News Values 
 On a more positive note, scientists and science writers 
are increasingly bypassing traditional n...
Personalization 
 Personalization: “the tendency to downplay the big 
social, economic, or political picture in favor of ...
Discuss: Personalization 
Why is focusing on the personalities and 
individual-level experiences and claims an 
issue whe...
Dramatization 
 Emphasis on conflict or crisis 
 May either lead to: 
 the blocking out of news that does not hold an i...
Novelty 
 The “repetition taboo” 
 “allows persistent, and growing, environmental problems to 
slide out of sight if the...
Balance 
http://scienceprogress.org/2007/11/out-of-balance/ 
 The norms of presenting “both sides” and giving “both sides...
Boykoff & Boykoff 
 1988-2004 Newspaper coverage of climate change 
 Adherence to first-order journalistic norms (person...
Boykoff & Boykoff 
In order to make it to 
the top of the mass 
media’s agenda, 
environmental 
problems must 
“piggyback ...
Boykoff & Boykoff 
 Summary: “by employing the norms of professional journalism, 
the mass-media can adversely affect int...
Brainstorm – What might cause 
climate change ‘make’ the news? 
 An extreme weather event 
 A new scientific study 
 A ...
Getting Better? 
 Boykoff (2007) looked at newspaper coverage of climate change 
from 2003 – 2008 
 “When it comes to re...
Boykoff, 2007 
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publica 
tion_files/2007.39.pdf
Boykoff, 2007 
http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publica 
tion_files/2007.39.pdf
Getting Better?
 “One of the most common complaints lodged against journalists these 
days is the notion of “false balance”. Journalists,...
Thoughts on Readings 
 What did you think of this Q&A? 
 What kind of environmental 
coverage resonates with you? 
 Did...
Discuss – Blog or Tweet your 
Responses. 
 “[T]he role of science journalism is not simply to act as a 
'translator' who ...
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Journalistic Norms and Environmental Issues - #SciCommLSU Lecture 6

Journalistic Norms and Environmental Issues - #SciCommLSU Lecture 6

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Journalistic Norms and Environmental Issues - #SciCommLSU Lecture 6

  1. 1. Journalistic Norms – Environmental Issues Lecture 6 – by Paige Brown #SciCommLSU Paige Brown & Zeynep Altinay
  2. 2. History of Science News Coverage  Early 1900s: science journalism was characterized by a ‘gee-whiz’ and translational mode of reporting (Rensberger, 2009).  1930s/40s: newspaper reporters viewed their role as persuading publics that science was the salvation of society (Lewenstein, 1992).  1950s: science reporters covered the details of scientific discovery, rather than science’s political or social implications (Rensberger, 2009).  1960s: science reporting becomes more critical, reflecting a muckraking age of journalism, questioning the motivations and political objectives of scientists.  1970s: Reporters become more sympathetic to a rising environmental movement.  1980s: Rise of PR and promotional science reporting.
  3. 3. History of Science News Coverage  1990s: Return to a more critical stance of reporting on science.  2000s:  Rise of blogs and online science news  Polarization of news environment on scientific issues?  2014?  Scientists and amateur science bloggers / journalists cover science in both traditional and alternative formats  Decline of full-time science journalism opportunities  Rise of participatory, dialogic science journalism in blogs and more innovative digital science news sites.  Divergence of entertaining science news & critical coverage?  A focus on the audience information wants & needs?
  4. 4. History of Environmental News Coverage  1960s: Corporate PR hides degree of industry pollution, etc.  By early 1970s, both the media and the general population knew there was such a thing as an “environmental issue”  1969 – New York Times creates an environment beat and NatGeo offers a 9,000 word article on man’s environmental problems
  5. 5. History of Environmental News Coverage  1969 Santa Barbara oil spill ”was covered by television as a human-interest story of young people trying to save oil-soaked birds on the beach. The moving pictures of students in tears with dying birds in their arms were seen ’up close and personal’ [on TV].” – Environment Reporters in the 21st Century
  6. 6. Today’s Environmental News Coverage  Today “almost every news reporter may be called on to cover breaking stories about the environment.” – Environment Reporters in the 21st Century  In the 21st century, environmental coverage, especially of climate change, became very political and polarized.  Niche media have emerged around environmental coverage: ClimateWire, Grist, Mother Nature Network, Yale Environment 360  The public have become more aware of environmental issues like climate change and sustainability in general.  Environmental stories can have many different angles: government, human interest, business/economic, pollution, nature/wilderness, science/technology, political, health, risk assessment.
  7. 7. Why does it matter how US media covers climate change?  US is a top emitter of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.  We produce more then 25% (!) of greenhouse gases worldwide, but we only have 5% of the world’s population. (2006).  The media is one of the key “public arenas in which social problems are framed and grow.”
  8. 8. Carbon Cycle (US Dept of Energy)
  9. 9. Ways we don’t want the media to cover climate change:  A subject of scientific uncertainty or even dispute  Scientific findings are often full of caveats and limitations. They are rarely absolute. On the other hand, journalists prefer to communicate in unambiguous terms.  A drama of conflicting personalities  A “He Said She Said” debate  “End of the World” “Fear-mongering”  Discrete, unconnected events (covering only one-off natural disasters as opposed to an ongoing physical as well as social issue).  Reporting on environmental issues requires a commitment to facts, an understanding of large data trends, and takes time.
  10. 10. News values & environmental reporting  “In their coverage of environment risk the [TV] networks are guided more by the traditional determinants of news and the availability of dramatic visual images than by the scientific risk of the situation involved. They are also guided in their coverage by geographical factors (such as cost and convenience) much more than by risk” – Greenberg et al. 1989  Journalistic news values focus reporters more on events than issues, more on the spectacular and the dramatic than on the chronic.
  11. 11. Traditional Journalistic Norms  Objectivity  Fairness  Accuracy  Balance *Note: New media may be changing some of these norms, especially the norm of objectivity, which is increasingly less important among online journalists/bloggers.
  12. 12. News Values Factors of Newsworthiness  Size, Scale or Scope of the Event  Threshold, Magnitude  Conflict/Negativity  Negativity, Drama, “Bad News”, Conflict, Deviance  Positivity  Success, “Good News”, rescues and cures, etc.  Impact or Significance  Importance / Relevance to readers, Social Significance, Interest
  13. 13. News Values Factors of Newsworthiness  Time  Recency, Timeliness  Proximity  Nearness (might be geographical, but might be cultural, etc.), Meaningfulness to the audience, Ethnocentricism, Cultural Relevance  Novelty  Unexpectedness (often used in science news), Novelty, Surprise, “Man-Bite-Dog”  Prominence  Elite (elite nations, elite people), Celebrities, the Powerful http://anjagoller.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/what-makes-a-story-interesting-to-readers/
  14. 14. News Values Factors of Newsworthiness  Personalization  Showing the human side of an issue or event, Personalities, Familiarity  Human Interest  Entertaining and Emotional aspects  Sensationalism  News Writing Objectives  Unambiguity (clarity in presenting the meaning or interpretation of an event/issue)  Simplification  Brevity  Colour  Clarity  Brevity  Satisfaction  Story quality
  15. 15. The case of ‘prefabricated’ stories in science Bad Science in the Headlines: http://embor.embopress.org/content/7/12/1193
  16. 16. The Embargo System  “an embargo is when a journal, researcher or public information officer (PIO) gives reporters a copy of a journal article before the article is published – but bars those reporters from releasing any stories about the journal article until it has been published.” – Matt Shipman  “The embargo system has led to a process whereby a handful of journals set the news agenda, even though there are hundreds of publications. Reporters tend to cover the same stories so as not to miss out, and, even then, their reporting is marked by Eureka moments, portraying science as a process of discoveries.” - Revitalizing Science Journalism for a Digital Age
  17. 17. Example Embargo Policy
  18. 18. Embargoes – More Reading  The Pros and Cons of Embargoes: http://www.scilogs.com/communication_breakdown/embargo-pros- and-cons/  Embargoes as Self-Defense, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Live with Embargoes: http://www.scilogs.com/communication_breakdown/using-embargoes/
  19. 19. News Values applied to Science  What makes any particular story about a scientific discovery or a scientific process newsworthy?  Different fields of science receive different amounts of news coverage in general, with health, medicine and behavioral science dominating newspaper stories, including best-selling coverage in the New York Times (Clark & Illman, 2006).  Badenschier and Wormer (2012): Other factors that may influence the selection of science stories by the media include  (1) importance factors - political, economic, social, cultural, ethical and/or scientific importance  (2) surprise factors - unexpectedness and exotic nature of the information  (3) usability factors - whether the science provides advice for daily life.
  20. 20. Badenschier, F., & Wormer, H. (2012). Issue Selection in Science Journalism: Towards a Special Theory of News Values for Science News?  Important news factors specific to science”  Unexpectedness / Astonishment  Significance (total population affected)  Conflict / Controversy  Influence and Prominence (news involving the scientific elite)  Science journalists report on “spectacular discoveries, laureates, and marketing opportunities but the daily routine of scientists, the merit of competitors, or the background of research promotion remain unknown” (Badenschier and Wormer, 2012, p. 68).
  21. 21. “This is a very cool study and demonstrates what many of us have been saying—that we will get surprises.” http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/08/plants-have-unexpected-response-climate-change
  22. 22. Shoemaker, P. J. (2006). News and newsworthiness: A commentary. Communications, 31(1), 105-111.  “News content distracts people with bits of information taken out of context, which makes concentrating on issues, problems, and solutions more difficult” (p. 106)
  23. 23. Science OF News Values  News factors do not serve exclusively as journalistic criteria, but as human selection criteria, based on psychology of perception. (Eilders,1997)  Factors that affect selective retention (i.e. memory) of news items by audiences: controversy, elite persons/prominence, personalization, unexpectedness, relevance/reach.  News factors can be regarded as efficient selection criteria in both media use and the retention of news items by the audience.
  24. 24. Analyze This http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-antarctic-sea-ice-20140830- story.html#page=1 [Link] or http://ow.ly/BbwLP Pair up. Identify the news values in this story. Why might it have made the news? Give your opinion: Which news values add to the quality of reporting? Which detract? How is the story, and the science, framed?
  25. 25. Analyze This http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/06/climate-change-children-health-nature- outdoors_n_5761906.html [Link] or http://ow.ly/Bbwr4 Pair up. Identify the news values in this story. Why might it have made the news? Give your opinion: Which news values add to the quality of reporting? Which detract?
  26. 26. Analyze This http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/29/brain-eating-ameba- Pair up. now-in-louisiana-drinking-water/ [Link] or http://ow.ly/Bbxe5 Identify the news values in this story. Why might it have made the news? Give your opinion: Which news values add to the quality of reporting? Which detract? What is missing from this story? How would you change it?
  27. 27. News Values vs. Environmental Science  Many news factors, as well as external factors such as competition, commercial pressures on the news organization, preference for prefabricated events and predictability, work against regular coverage of science and environmental science.  Science PR professionals and scientists often have to present their science in terms of relevant news values to enhance news coverage.
  28. 28. Bypassing News Values  On a more positive note, scientists and science writers are increasingly bypassing traditional news outlets (and need for news values) by blogging and tweeting about science.  “Digital environments are creating an ‘overlapping information and communication space’ (Trench, 2009: 167) in which scientists, journalists, advocates, and the people formerly known as audiences are all content contributors, each with varying knowledge, background and perspectives.” (Fahy & Nisbet, 2011: 782).
  29. 29. Personalization  Personalization: “the tendency to downplay the big social, economic, or political picture in favor of the human trials tragedies, and triumphs that sit at the surface of events”  Can translate into news that focuses on the conflict between personalities (climate scientists and politicians, etc.) as opposed to larger scale social issues  “focusing on the individual claims-makers who are locked in political battle.”
  30. 30. Discuss: Personalization Why is focusing on the personalities and individual-level experiences and claims an issue when it comes to climate change? *Hint – Climate change is a social issue.
  31. 31. Dramatization  Emphasis on conflict or crisis  May either lead to:  the blocking out of news that does not hold an immediate sense of excitement or controversy (not enough talk about climate changes or climate change science in the media unless it is “dramatic” or  Sensationalized, “alarmist” reporting Both of these have issues for proper public understanding of climate change and proper action.
  32. 32. Novelty  The “repetition taboo”  “allows persistent, and growing, environmental problems to slide out of sight if there is nothing ‘new’ to report” (Stocking and Leonard, 1990, p. 40)  The underlying causes and long-term consequences of climate change are often overlooked in the media in a focus on news pegs.  Coverage of one-off disasters (a hurricane, etc.) more likely than sustained, contextualized coverage of climate change impacts.
  33. 33. Balance http://scienceprogress.org/2007/11/out-of-balance/  The norms of presenting “both sides” and giving “both sides equal attention”  How can this be an issue for climate change? *Hints: “false” balance; setting non-experts against experts.
  34. 34. Boykoff & Boykoff  1988-2004 Newspaper coverage of climate change  Adherence to first-order journalistic norms (personalization, dramatization, novelty) and second-order norms (authority-order and balance) may lead to poor coverage of climate change.
  35. 35. Boykoff & Boykoff In order to make it to the top of the mass media’s agenda, environmental problems must “piggyback on dramatic real-world events” Result: ‘Spastic’ coverage following newsworthy events and issues. (hurricanes, droughts, political events, elections, etc.
  36. 36. Boykoff & Boykoff  Summary: “by employing the norms of professional journalism, the mass-media can adversely affect interactions between science, policy, and the public. Adherence to the norms of dramatization, personalization, novelty, balance and authority-order is part of a process that eventuates in informationally biased coverage of global warming.”
  37. 37. Brainstorm – What might cause climate change ‘make’ the news?  An extreme weather event  A new scientific study  A political statement or event pertaining to climate change  An unexpected finding / turn of events  Related events (newly found environmental threats, the extinction of a species, etc.)  A tragic event, such as an oil spill, etc.  A new graphic or image (i.e. powerful new visuals)  Can you think of anything else?
  38. 38. Getting Better?  Boykoff (2007) looked at newspaper coverage of climate change from 2003 – 2008  “When it comes to reporting on global warming in the United States, "phony media balance," though once a serious problem, actually appears to have declined.” – Chris Mooney, 2007
  39. 39. Boykoff, 2007 http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publica tion_files/2007.39.pdf
  40. 40. Boykoff, 2007 http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publica tion_files/2007.39.pdf
  41. 41. Getting Better?
  42. 42.  “One of the most common complaints lodged against journalists these days is the notion of “false balance”. Journalists, so the critics say, too often present fringe scientists in a misguided effort to balance stories about genuine science. Or it can mean "balancing" experts against people who don't know what they're talking about.”  “False balance seems more likely to plague broadcast coverage of science than print. Print reporters sometimes get the chance to evaluate claims from sources before they get into print. But false balance can trip up any reporter when there isn’t time to fully investigate a story. Often stories end up with a he-said-she said structure even though both sides can’t possibly be right.”  “The best way to avoid false balance is dogged research, fact checking and adequate time devoted to vetting the credentials and sniffing out conflicts of interest that might color statements sources make. And in interviews, a good reporter should force subjects to be specific. Don’t let them get away with vague, fuzzy statements, contradictions, or sweeping conclusions beyond what’s supported by evidence.” https://ksj.mit.edu/tracker/2014/07/report-accuses-bbc-journalists-of-false-balance- in-climate-change-coverage/
  43. 43. Thoughts on Readings  What did you think of this Q&A?  What kind of environmental coverage resonates with you?  Did the realize before reading this how much environmental reporters have to consider politics, the human side of their stories, health impacts, etc. as well as the environmental science itself?
  44. 44. Discuss – Blog or Tweet your Responses.  “[T]he role of science journalism is not simply to act as a 'translator' who conveys the findings of scientists in a language understandable to lay people. Rather, good science journalism will provide the public with a realistic impression of what is well established in science and what are current 'hot topics', uncertainties and controversies. It will also discuss the methods and social context of the scientific endeavour. There is ample evidence that in the area of climate science, journalism too often is failing to deliver this realistic picture to its audience, despite many good science journalists.”  Answer this question: What would YOU do (as a journalist, writer, etc.) to deliver a more realistic picture of environmental issues like climate change? How could we improve coverage of environmental issues in Louisiana, for example?

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