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|