Thursday, June 01, 2017

Wis. stories on wind energy show how politicians, lobbyists frame news coverage, researcher writes

Political leaders have powerful influence on how environmental issues are framed in journalism and other sources of information, Wisconsin researcher Keith Joseph Zukas says in his article, "Framing wind energy: Strategic communication influences on journal coverage," in the latest issue of Mass Communication and Society, a publication of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Politicians act as journalists when they speak on environmentally related issues such as wind energy, framing how information is presented, Zukas argues. If that's a concern, a greater one is that politicians speak on the basis of information they get from lobbyists and institutional stakeholders. The result? Often "political and energy-industry frames dominate newspaper coverage of energy issues even when environmental and scientific issues are inherent to the story," Zukas writes. "Competing messages about scientific issues from political and business perspectives often have greater influence on audiences than a purely scientific viewpoint because they frame the issue in a way that activates people's core values and beliefs." Zukas calls for further examination of political influence and how environmental stories are covered by journalists.

Zukas based his findings on his analysis of 1,025 energy-related stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal in 2009 and 2010, plus almost 900 strategic communications in the same period by the state government, such minutes of legislative meetings, press releases and blog posts.

He found that "newspapers reflected a large majority of the energy-independence and progress frames used by the government and industry," he writes. "The finding supports the theory of influence by the government and industry on the press." Coverage was dominated by progress of the industry, and there was little focus on public accountability. Powerful political forces framing environmental issues dangerously "limits the potential for alternative master narratives about major societal issues ... and delineate(s) the ways in which citizens of the public sphere can even think about energy and the environment," he writes.
Sources cited in analysis; table created by Zukas; click on it for larger version
Zukas is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Sociology at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. He and other communication scholars argue that researchers must start advocating for science and environmental issues with a practical approach intended to resonate with diverse beliefs and people's values. He notes that health, science and environmental researchers and professionals have corrected misinformation, thinking that this would inspire public support for health and science, but business, politics and personal ideals have interfered.

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