Environmental Coverage Priorities: A Michigan newspaper comparison
By Erik Bean
and Jim Detjen
1518 Yorkshire Drive, # 22
Howell, MI 48843
phone: (517) 694-8484
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Michigan State University
341 Communications Arts Building
East Lansing, MI 48824
phone: (517) 353-9479
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Environmental Coverage Priorities: A Michigan newspaper comparison
Do journalists write about environmental issues scientists think are important?
A study of nine daily Michigan newspapers compared the newspapers' coverage of
these issues with a scientific analysis _ known as the Michigan Relative Risk
Analysis Project _ that prioritized the most important environmental issues.
The newspapers generally agreed with scientists in their priorities on
environmental issues, but disagreed considerably on specific isues, such as
environmental awareness, solid wastes, habitat modification and ozone depletion.
Environmental Coverage Priorities: A Michigan newspaper comparison
The purpose of this research is to see if journalists write about environmental
issues that scientists think are important. To test this, our study compared
the environmental coverage in nine daily newspapers in Michigan with a ranking
of the most important environmental issues by scientists, known as the Michigan
Relative Risk Analysis Project (MRRAP).
In July 1992 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA} and the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) published the results of a
qualitative scientific project designed to pinpoint the most serious
environmental risks to residents of Michigan. The MRRAP was funded by the EPA
and administered by the MDNR as a benchmark study. It asked researchers from a
variety of scientific disciplines, agency representatives and citizens to
analyze environmental risks.1
Its purpose was to provide a general risk consensus and rank the threats
according to how each affects the quality of life in Michigan. Landfills and
toxic waste dumps were not as high of a priority as lack of land use or lack of
environmental awareness, for instance. Twenty four environmental issues were
ranked into four categories of risk, High-High, High, Medium-High and Medium
(See accompanying table).
In the highest category of risk _ the High High category _were listed six
risks, including global climate change and absence of land use planning. In the
second highest category _ High risks _ were biodiversity/habitat modification
and ground water and surface water toxins. Hazardous and radioactive wastes
were in the Medium-High category. And acid deposition and accidental releases
of chemicals into the environment were in the lowest _ Medium _ category.
How journalists cover these issues is important because much of what the public
knows about environmental issues comes from the mass media, including
newspapers. If the environmental print journalist is to serve a useful mass
communication purpose, then presumably the types, amount, and space of
environmental stories published should be similar to the ranking of risks by the
We reviewed several mass media research studies to find out what they could
tell us about how newspapers cover environmental issues. A number of studies
have been done on this topic during the past quarter century.
In 1971 Murch found the public at large believes there is a solution to
environmental problems and that much of the information they receive about the
issues comes from television, magazines, and newspapers.2 To reach these
findings, Murch distributed 300 questionnaires to a random sample of Durham,
N.C. residents. He received nearly a 75 percent response rate. He sought to
determine the public's perception of the seriousness of environmental issues.
His study found only 13 percent viewed environmental problems as a serious
threat to their own community, compared to 74 percent who saw the problems as a
serious threat nationally.
Murch conducted a content analysis of the local Durham newspapers. During the
period of his survey, over a third of all the copy devoted to environmental
coverage by the Durham newspapers dealt with national problems. Half of it
focused on either national or the global environmental issues. Less than 10
percent of that copy dealt with local environmental issues.
Atwater3 found people gain environmental information in a similar manner to how
they retrieve information about politicians: Through what newspapers choose to
present to them and what they select to read. Atwater noticed little attention
was given to why and how readers select environmental stories.
He examined the coverage of six of the most covered environmental stories in
the three largest daily newspapers serving Lansing, Mich. He analyzed a
two-month period from Oct. 5 to Dec. 5, 1983, using only the front sections of
the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press, and The Detroit News. The
six environmental subjects that received the most coverage were: 1) disposal of
wastes; 2) quality of water; 3) hazardous substances; 4) quality of land; 5)
quality of air; and 6) wildlife conservation. He employed three judges to
determine which story fell under each of the six topics.
Following the content analysis, he randomly selected telephone numbers in the
Lansing area and asked respondents on a one to 10 scale how important he/she
viewed each of the six topics. A zero constituted no importance, while a 10
meant very important. He also asked them how important they believed the news
media perceived each topic. Using a series of nine questions, Atwater found a
mean rating of 8.3 for those who felt environmental stories mattered in their
life versus a 4.5 mean rating for those who used the information strictly for
conversation purposes. The majority of those surveyed relied on the media to
inform them about environmental issues.
Atwater, Novac and Sandman4 found in 1971, however, newspapers did not account
for the most often-used sources of environmental information. Their sample
included 158 undergraduate students who were supplied with a list of 15 possible
sources of environmental information such as radio, television, newspapers,
interpersonal communication, word of mouth, and campus discussion groups.
They presented eight environmental issues they deemed important and found on
all eight issues, students received the majority of their environmental news
from non-mass media sources such as teachers, other students, and word of mouth.
Forty five percent said mass media were their chosen source, while 55 percent
listed other non-media sources.
And what of the importance of the MRRAP? Keisling says it was designed to
prioritize risks.5 In her thesis, she examined the public policy issues behind
environmental social responsibility. The United States continues to spend more
each year on environmental protection, she wrote, totaling over $150 billion in
fiscal year 1993.
Pulling together the various societal decision makers who will help make
environmental risks manageable has not been effective due to "fragmentation" of
the various groups. Fragmentation refers to the variety of opposing viewpoints
and poor communication between various environmental policy makers. "Recurring
problems are often the result of short-term, linear thinking. This results in
'patchwork attempts' and 'piecemeal solutions.' As a result, agencies, and even
individual policies, must compete for limited resources," she wrote. Enter the
phenomenon of risk assessment. Although its definition is quite broad, risk
assessment strives to combine scientific data with plausible assumptions and
qualitative thinking to generate a value of ecological or human health risk, she
Risk assessment dates back to the 1960's. More recently, Congress passed "The
Risk Analysis Research and Demonstration Act of 1982." Its purpose was to
implement a vehicle to improve the use of risk analysis in federal agencies
responsible for protecting human health and the environment. Nine years later
the MRRAP was conducted to provide a local level of risk assessment.
Keisling presents both sides of the risk analysis debate, including those in
the scientific community who think it is too subjective. That is why risk
communication is so important, given the divergence between the public and
expert risk perceptions. The risk communication process involves three players:
those who assess risk (scientists, researchers, and individuals); those who
manage it (EPA, MDNR, corporations, businesses, special interest groups); and
those who communicate it, including the mass media. But it is the scientists
who are still transmitting the data to the public.
Keisling wanted to know how the agriculture experiment stations at Michigan
State University should play into the risk management process before the risk is
communicated. And although risk assessment has its share of proponents and
opponents, this is precisely why it needs to be communicated to the public.
"...risk communication provides the means to engage the public in meaningful
dialogues about risk so that a holistic definition of risk may be achieved," she
At present, only a one-way model of risk communication is being used. This
involves the scientists who report and transmit their findings to the public.
This is not good enough, she wrote. Risk communication needs to be an on-going
dialogue between those who assess and those who manage. Therefore, those who
use risk assessment should admit the quantitative uncertainty of these analyses
and strive to include the qualitative factors.
If the media has a social responsibility, then conveying risk communication to
the public should be considered a high priority. But how high of a priority has
it been in terms of the mass media? The following brief overview will help to
clarify the scope and priority of newspaper and magazine environmental coverage
since awareness of pollution first sprouted in the late 1950's.
Rubin and Sachs conducted research to determine how the public digests
environmental stories served up to them by the mass media.6 Their primary
concern focused on what influences may have contributed to the types of stories
published in local papers. Using the San Francisco Bay area as a California
model, their research addressed that state's widely publicized environmental
issues: water resource management, land use planning, and atomic energy. Funded
by the National Science Foundation to investigate how the public perceived these
environmental issues via the mass media, their research at Stanford was
conducted from June 1970 through September 1971 by 36 graduate and undergraduate
students in communications, law, medicine, geology, physics, and biology.
They examined the beginnings of science reporting after World War II through a
1957 benchmark survey conducted by the National Association of Science Writers
and the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan. That study found
newspaper readers had a comparatively active interest in science news, but that
editors were inclined to downplay its importance.
In a 1959 President's Science Advisory Committee on Education for the Age of
Science, the Committee said problems associated with air and water pollution
were too pressing to wait for the electorate act. The authors wrote, "This puts
the burden of educating the public about scientific and technological challenges
squarely upon the mass media, particularly newspapers."
Hungerford and Lemert found local media tend to cover environmental issues, "up
the road a piece," rather than local issues.7 Coverage of the environment could
be equated to a 1948 term known as "Afghanistanism." Jenkins said the term
stemmed from an editor who told his colleagues that "...many an editorial
writer can't hit a short-range target.... You can pontificate about the
situation in Afghanistan in perfect safety. You have no fanatic Afghans among
They reviewed all news and editorial space associated with the environment for
each of Oregon's 20 general circulation daily newspapers during a seven day
period in 1970. "Environment content was defined as dealing with man's
positive, negative, or unknown influence upon, or relationship with, his
environment." Their definitions included wildlife preservation, sewage disposal
problems, reviews of environmental "specials" on television, nuclear (thermal)
pollution and citizens who complained about grass burning in agricultural areas.
Compared to other news topics, they observed that far more of the environmental
stories dealt with issues or events outside their newspaper's region. More than
50 percent of the environmentally-related stories were found to be outside the
newspaper's circulation area, compared to only one in six for the other news
Several months after the first Earth Day in April of 1970, Bowman and Hanaford
were interested in the issue of "durability" _ whether the media's coverage of
an environmental issue held up over time.8 National magazines like National
Geographic, McCall's, Sports Illustrated, Better Homes and Gardens (BH&G),
Reader's Digest, Harpers, and Playboy, demonstrated how environmentally-related
issues exemplified the epitome of durability.
Their study found throughout the 1960s, air and water pollution had ruled the
journalistic highway. But between 1971 through 1975 preserving natural resources
became more important than coverage of pollution issues. Some 53 natural
resource stories were published among major magazines during this time period.
By contrast, only 31 of the stories in these magazines focused on water
A shift in the amount of environmental reporting9 was the topic of Howenstine's
1987 study. A content analysis that focused on environmental stories in major
periodicals during two one-year periods more than a decade apart showed the
amount of space devoted to its coverage increased. He examined periodicals
like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. Column inches
increased, on average, from 13 inches to 16 inches, with regard to environmental
In this study we have examined the environmental news coverage of nine daily
newspapers in Michigan during the six months following the publication of the
MRRAP study in July 1992. We asked these questions:
1. Was the total proportion of environmental stories in selected Michigan
daily newspapers between July 1992 and January 1993
consistent with the categories specified in the 1992 MRRAP
report, taking into consideration the number, location, and size of
each piece coded?
2. How many environmental news stories were published between July 1992 and
January 1993 and how much of the newspapers' newshole was devoted to different
environmental subject areas?
3. What percentage of environmental stories found at selected Michigan daily
newspapers between July 1992 and January 1993 were
outside each newspaper's major circulation area?
4. Were environmental journalists at selected Michigan daily newspapers
aware of the MRRAP results with in a 90-day period after it was
originally published in July 1992?
5. If environmental journalists at selected Michigan daily newspapers
were aware of the MRRAP study, did its findings influence their
Both a content analysis and telephone interviews were employed for this study.
Nine Michigan daily newspapers were selected for observation _ three large
dailies, three mid-size dailies, and three small dailies. The three large
newspapers were the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and Grand Rapids Press;
the three mid-size dailies were the Lansing State Journal, Kalamazoo Gazette
and Saginaw News; and the three small dailies were the Ironwood Daily Globe,
Albion Recorder, and the Marshall Chronicle.
Out of the 52 daily Michigan newspapers in 1992 (excluding The Detroit Legal
News), The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, and Grand Rapids Press were the
state's papers with the largest circulation.10 Ironwood Daily Globe, Albion
Recorder, and Marshall Chronicle were the three papers with the smallest
circulation in the state. (No outstate editions were included in this study and
only one daily edition of each paper was examined.)
The MRRAP was published in July 1992 and we chose the six-month period
following its publication _ July 1992 to January 1993 _ for our study.
Riffe, Aust, and Lacy's constructed week sampling11 technique was used to
determine a representative 14-day period to examine the newspapers' coverage of
environmental issues during the six months examined.
A second sample period was used for the Marshall Chronicle and the Albion
Recorder because they did not publish enough stories during the first sampling
period to be statistically significant.
Due to the joint operating agreement (JOA) between The Detroit News and the
Detroit Free Press, each are separate publications during the week days, but the
Saturday and Sunday editions are identical except for the editorial pages.
Since both periodicals often ran environmental stories written by either
entity's staffers, only those stories that indicated the periodical for which
the staff writer worked would get an environmental story credit towards that
periodical's MRRAP count. The weekday editions, however, remain relatively
Stories written by the Associated Press and other wire services were given
credit towards the publication in which they appeared. Duplicate stories found
in county inserts were only counted once. Articles had to contain at least
three square inches of copy to be coded.
For the most part, the coding book consisted of MRRAP issue definitions as
outlined in the, "White Papers: Michigan Relative Risk Analysis Project,"
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Office of Policy and Program
Development, July 1992.12
Each piece coded was examined based on a broad and minor emphasis definition.
If 50 percent or more of a story dealt with one MRRAP issue (delineation) it was
coded in the broad emphasis category. If 25 percent to 49 percent of a story
dealt with a MRRAP subject it was coded in the minor emphasis category. Each
piece could be coded in both a broad and minor emphasis rating.
The major circulation area was defined as the largest county or counties where
the newspaper is distributed. It was used to measure the Afghanistanism Model.
Prominence refers to the section of the newspaper where the story was found.
Stories found on the front page above the fold received the highest prominence
rating. Stories below the fold on the front page received a slightly lower
rating. Stories published on the front of other sections or at other locations
received still lower ratings.
The results were tabulated using SPSS+ software.
The Lansing State Journal was chosen for the pilot study because it was neither
a small nor large daily newspaper and it would likely yield a wide-range of
environmental stories because of its location in Lansing, Michigan, the state's
capital. Since a constructed week sample was not available for purchase, a
straight seven day period from April 29, 1995 through May 2, 1995 was used. A
Ph.D. candidate in mass communication, Coder I, volunteered for the pilot.
The ability to select the environmental stories from the week sample was almost
entirely in agreement between Coder I and one of the co-authors. We were
consistent in all other areas accept the newshole count. To remedy this we
rewrote the portion of the coding definitions that dealt with what stories were
included, and what stories were not included.
The newshole count proved to be the biggest challenge, as it was at first
difficult to determine precisely what constituted a story. For example, if two
short bylined stories (at least three square inches) appeared under one
headline, they were judged and measured independently and counted as two
The first question was this: Was the total proportion of environmental stories
in selected Michigan daily newspapers between July 1992 and January 1993
consistent with the categories specified in the 1992 MRRAP report?
We found that, in general, the findings were consistent. The greatest number of
stories (80) and the greatest number of square inches of news stories (1,762)
involved stories in the highest priority category, the "High High" category.
The number of stories in the High-High category was 80; in the High category
47; in the Medium-High classification 57; and in the Medium category 22.
Therefore, there were nearly four times as many High-High stories as Medium
ones. Moreover, there were nearly twice as many pieces coded in the High-High
category than in the Medium-High classification (see Table 1).
Table 1: Comparison of combined environmental stories
found by frequency, size, and location
Total number of broad Total number of broad Mean of prominence
environmental stories square inches found measurement
found by MRRAP category by MRRAP category by MRRAP category
MRRAP Number of broad prominence
category broad stories inches measurement
High-High 080 1,762 1.8
High 047 1,232 1.6
Medium-High 057 0,915 1.6
Medium 022 0,319 2.2
Total 204 4,228 __
Total sample 289 6,127 __
minor only 083 1,799 __
minor with broad 188 3,928 __
In addition, it is also worth noting not all MRRAP categories were evenly
balanced in terms of the number of issues they contained. Of the nine
periodicals examined, 289 environmental stories as outlined in the coding
definitions were found. Overwhelmingly, most of the stories found were
articles. In addition, there were also editorials, letters to the editor, and a
book review (see Table 2).
Table 2: Combined article format
of environmental pieces culled
letter to the editor 010
book review 001
Total sample 289
The stories found in the dailies emphasized the High-High issues both in
frequency and square inches. High-High stories accounted for 1,762 (29 percent)
of the 6,127 total inches found (see Table 1). The Total number of square
inches in the High-High, High, Medium-High, and Medium groups followed in
descending order, mirroring the MRRAP priorities. But, the papers were not
consistent with the other lower categories, where the emphasis, in terms of
number of stories, showed partiality towards the Medium-High group and not the
The greatest number of stories in any one of the categories (35) involved solid
wastes, which are in the Medium-High category of environmental risk. These
stories were typically about landfills. All nine newspapers published at least
one story about solid wastes. Another popular issue in this category involved
recycling. Solid-waste pieces accounted for the number two ranked spot in
terms of square inches, with slightly more than 650 recorded in the broad
emphasis category (see Table 3).
One reason this topic may have been so widely reported is because landfills
are frequently controversial, often generating conflicts in the communities in
which they are located.
The second most common issue written about involved biodiversity and habitat
modification, a subject in the High category. This subject area ranked first
in terms of the total number of square inches found and second in terms of
frequency with 29 pieces or 10 percent of the entire sample. This category
totaled 880 square inches of news stories, 200 more inches than the subject
area of solid-wastes.
General environmental awareness had 23 stories, making it the third most
popular issue. Included in this issue were stories related to environmental
racism, protests, Earth Day, book reviews, or being environmentally conscious.
Energy production and consumption yielded 22 stories, making it the fourth most
popular issue. Both of these subjects are in the "High High" category.
Land use planning was the fifth most popular subject with 17 pieces coded under
this delineation. Accidental releases and responses were the sixth most quite
popular with 14 stories.
Only three of the 289 articles examined dealt with stratospheric ozone
depletion, even though this subject was ranked by the MRRAP in the "High-High"
Prominence demonstrated a different picture of environmental coverage (see
Table 4). Pieces coded in subject areas in the Medium category (accidental
releases and responses, acid deposition, criteria and related air pollutants,
and electromagnetic fields), were found to have a higher prominence rating,
meaning that they were more likely to have been published towards the front of
However, articles dealing with lack of land use planning, urban degradation,
and the other High-High issues weren't far behind with an average mean of 1.8.
Stories dealing with High and Medium-High issues were published farther back in
the newspapers (see Table 1).
Table 4: Combined prominence location of environmental stories examined
Location number percentage
Front page, above fold 015 05%
Front page, below fold 022 08%
Front section 095 33%
Other location 157 54%
Total sample 289 100%
The second question was: What number and percentage of the newshole in
selected Michigan daily newspapers was related to environmental issues between
July 1992 and January 1993?
Only three percent __ 289 out of 9,984 __ of the stories counted in the nine
newspapers dealt with environmental issues (see Table 5).
The Saginaw News and The Grand Rapids Press had the most environmental coverage
with 56 and 55 pieces, respectively. In second place was the Lansing State
Journal with 41 pieces.
Surprisingly, both the Saginaw News and The Grand Rapids Press had more than
twice as many environmental stories as their bigger daily newspaper
counterparts, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. The Marshall
Chronicle had the fewest environmental stories with only 16.
All nine newspapers published small pieces dealing with environmental issues
that contained fewer than three square inches, and therefore were not included
in the study.
Table 5: Combined percent of newshole
dedicated to environmental coverage
Total environmental Total pieces counted Total environmental
pieces culled for sample in all nine periodicals newshole percent
289 9,984 2.89 percent
Overall, the results did not seem too surprising, considering that the summer
and fall of 1992 were filled with many pressing and newsworthy stories that
apparently helped to keep environmental issues on the back burner, as we will
soon discuss. Yes, there was an environmental summit in Brazil that year, but it
had occurred in early June (several weeks before the MRRAP study was formally
announced in Lansing). This was also a Presidential campaign year with George
Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton receiving the lion's share of newspaper
Some of the more important environmental stories that did receive coverage
included a tires-to-energy plant that was being proposed in Albion. Both the
Marshall Chronicle and the Albion Recorder covered this issue. Still, as the
culling and coding process continued, much of what was found in the newspapers
involved such day-to-day news staples as murders, school board meetings and the
natural disasters that plagued the day.
This was a period defined by Hurricane Andrew and one of the coolest summers in
Michigan history. Mt. Pinatubo's volcanic eruption, the aftermath of the Gulf
War, and the El Nino, a periodic warming of the water in the central and eastern
Pacific Ocean, also regularly made the headlines. But, for the most part these
news events did not qualify as environmental stories because they did not focus
specifically on environmental issues. The Ironwood Daily Globe focused several
of its stories on recycling issues and had many outdoor pieces that took the
environment into consideration. This northern Michigan paper had the highest
percentage of its newshole devoted to environmental coverage out of all nine
newspapers (see Table 6).
Growth issues in the Lansing State Journal dealing with Lansing's suburban
Meridian township accounted for most of the land-use stories found in all nine
Many of the periodicals examined carried the same stories, particularly those
involving chemical factory explosions, because these stories were carried by the
Associated Press. In the Saginaw News, many letters to the editor about the
Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) were
published. CIESIN is an environmental research organization that was planning to
build a regional facility on Ojibway Island, a nature sanctuary in the Saginaw
River. The city had approved its location, but many residents felt it would
disrupt the wildlife on the tiny rustic parcel of land.
A 1992 study about risks associated with living next to power lines was
published in almost all the newspapers in this study. Other articles, focusing
on the unusually cool summer because of global phenomena, such as El Nino or
volcanic eruptions, were published in all of the newspapers.
Table 6. Frequency of environmental stories found by periodical
including total newshole
Periodical Number Number Percent of of stories in newshole
Detroit Free Press 22 1,552 1.4%
The Detroit News 21 1,478 1.4
Grand Rapids Press 55 1,943 2.8
Lansing State Journal 41 0,949 4.3
Kalamazoo Gazette 29 1,062 2.7
Saginaw News 56 1,166 4.8
Ironwood Daily Globe 25 0,346 7.2
Albion Chronicle 24* 0,672* 3.6
Marshall Chronicle 16* 0,527* 3.0
Total sample 289 9,695 3.0
* Includes extra constructed week
The third question is: What percentage of environmental stories found at
selected Michigan daily newspapers between July 1992 and January 1993 were
outside each newspaper's major circulation area?
Our analysis found of the 289 stories examined 179 were outside the newspaper's
major circulation areas and 110 were within the circulation areas. Therefore,
approximately 62 percent of all the environmental stories examined occurred
outside the major circulation areas of the newspapers.
Even the two largest dailies, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News
published most of their environmental stories about subjects outside their major
circulation areas. For example, the Detroit Free Press published seven local
environmental stories and 15 environmental stories dealing with events outside
its circulation area. The Detroit News published eight environmental stories
about events within its local circulation area and 13 dealing with non-local
issues. In both newspapers, non-local environmental stories were often written
by the Associated Press and dealt with such issues as chemical spills and global
While these findings appear to support the Afghanistanism hypothesis, it would
be risky to conclude editors were consciously trying to avoid local
environmental issues. More likely, they may have been responding to their
judgments of the newsworthiness of daily events.
The fourth question is: Were environmental journalists at selected Michigan
daily newspapers aware of the MRRAP results within a 90-day period after it was
originally published in July 1992?
A telephone survey of environmental reporters and editors at the nine
newspapers found that only three of the nine were aware of the MRRAP study at
all. All three learned of the study within 90 days after it was published.
The fifth question is: If environmental journalists at selected Michigan daily
newspapers were aware of the MRRAP study, did its findings influence their
Only one of the journalists, Dennis Knickerbocker of the Lansing State Journal,
said the MRRAP had any effect on the newspaper's environmental coverage.
At two other newspapers _ The Grand Rapids Press and the Saginaw News _
journalists said they, too, were aware of the MRRAP study but said it had no
influence on their newspaper's coverage.
This study of nine Michigan newspapers concludes that, in general, their
coverage of environmental issues is consistent with the priorities set by the
1992 MRRAP. Eighty of the 289 environmental stories found (28 percent) dealt
with subjects considered to be High High by the MRRAP.
However, the newspapers placed a much greater emphasis on some subject areas --
such as solid wastes, biodiversity and habitat modification _ than the MRRAP
found is warranted. More than a fifth (22 percent) of all stories dealt with
these issues even though they were not a High High priority in the MRRAP.
The newspapers also published only 12 stories (four percent) dealing with
either global climatic change or stratospheric ozone depletion despite the fact
these are two of the six subjects considered to be in the High-High category by
What's more, the newspapers were not consistent in terms of the number of
stories found at the High (47) or Medium-High (57) categories, where more
coverage was given to the latter.
In terms of total square inches of environmental stories published the
newspapers were consistent with the MRRAP study. They published 1,762 square
inches of stories dealing with subjects in the High High category of the MRRAP
or nearly 42 percent of their overall environmental coverage.
When examining the prominence ratings given to the stories, environmental
issues in the Medium-High category were assigned more towards the front of the
newspapers than the High-High category ones. This indicates the newspapers did
not believe they were as important as their Medium category counterparts.
One possible explanation is because some Medium issues (such as accidental
releases of oils or chemicals) are usually local and are consequently played
more prominently by daily newspaper editors. On the other hand, some High-High
issues (such as global climatic change and stratospheric ozone depletion) are
predominently international _ not local _ and therefore given less prominence by
local daily newspaper editors.
But why then was coverage relatively consistent in the High-High category since
only one newspaper even acknowledged that the MRRAP may have influenced its
coverage? One possible explanation for this is that environmental journalists
are generally aware of the scientifically priorities of environmental risks
because of their regular contact with scientists and governmental regulators
dealing with these environmental issues.
Perhaps, future researchers could attempt to duplicate our study to see if the
stories found continue to mirror the MRRAP results. This may help to determine
the durability of certain environmental issues.
What's more, other researchers could examine a wider range of environmental
coverage and compare it to the Environmental Protection Agency's Relative Risk
Analysis Project, which set environmental priorities on a national scale.
1. "Michigan Environment and Relative Risk: Michigan Relative Risk Analysis
Project," Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of
Natural Resources, July 1992.
2. Arvin W. Murch, "Public Concern for Environmental Pollution," Public
Opinion Quarterly, 35 (1971): 100-106.
3. Tony Atwater, "Reader Interest in Environmental News," Newspaper
Research Journal, 10 (Fall 1988): 31-37.
4. Kenneth Novic and Peter M. Sandman, "How Use of Mass Media Affects
Views On Solutions to Environmental Problems," Journalism Quarterly,
5. Jill Eenigenburgh Keisling, "Utilizing Risk Assessment to Guide
Environmental Policy Research: A Michigan Case," (Master's Thesis, School
of Natural Resources: Resource Development, Michigan State University,
6. David M. Rubin and David P. Sachs, "Mass Media and the Environment,"
(New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973).
7. Steven B. Hungerford and James B. Lemerer "Covering the Environment: A
New'Afghanistanism'?," Journalism Quarterly, 50:475-86; 508 (1973).
8. James S. Bowman and Kathryn Hanaford, "Mass Media and the Environment
Since Earth Day," Journalism Quarterly, (Spring 1977): 160-164.
9. Erick Howenstine, "Environmental Reporting: Shift from 1970 to 1982"
Journalism Quarterly, (Winter 1987): 842-847.
10. "1992 Michigan Newspaper Directory," Michigan Newspapers, Incorporated,
Michigan Press Association, 1992.
11. Daniel Riffe, Charles F. Aust, and Stephen R. Lacy, "The Effectiveness of
Random, Consecutive Day and Constructed Week Sampling in Newspaper
Content Analysis," Journalism Quarterly, (Spring 1993): 133-139.
12. "White Papers: Michigan Relative Risk Analysis Project," Michigan
Department of Natural Resources, Office of Policy and Program
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