Population and Environment

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 339–372 | Cite as

How and why journalists avoid the population-environment connection

  • T. Michael Maher
Article

Abstract

Recent surveys show that Americans are less concerned about population than they were 25 years ago, and they are not connecting environmental degradation to population growth. News coverage is a significant variable affecting public opinion, and how reporters frame a problem frequently signals what is causing the problem. Using a random sample of 150 stories about urban sprawl, endangered species and water shortages, Part I of this study shows that only about one story in 10 framed population growth as a source of the problem. Further, only one story in the entire sample mentioned population stability among the realm of possible solutions. Part II presents the results of interviews with 25 journalists whose stories on local environmental problems omitted the causal role of population growth. It shows that journalists are aware of the controversial nature of the population issue, and prefer to avoid it if possible. Most interviewees said that a national phenomenon like population growth was beyond the scope of what they could write as local reporters.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Abernethy, V. (1993).Population politics: The choices that shape our future. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  2. Altschull, J. H. (1984).Agents of power: The role of the news media in human affairs. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, K. D. (1990). From POET to PISTOL: Reflections on the ecological complex.Sociological Inquiry 60(4), 386–394.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, R. (1993).Eco-Scam: The false prophets of ecological apocalypse. New York: St. Martin's Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bennett, W. L. (1988).News: The politics of illusion. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  6. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966).The social construction of reality. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  7. Borquez, J. (1993). Newsmaking and policymaking: Steps toward a dialogue. In R. Spitzer (Ed.).Media and public policy. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  8. Breed, W. (1955, May). Social control in the newsroom.Social Forces, 326–335.Google Scholar
  9. Burd, G. (1972, April–May). The civic superlative: We're no. 1. The press as civic cheerleader.Twin Cities Journalism Review 1.Google Scholar
  10. Cobleigh, I. (1971).All about investing in real estate securities. New York: Weybright and Talley.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, B. C. (1963). The press and foreign policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1972).Population and the American future. New York: New American Library.Google Scholar
  13. Commoner, B. (1990).Making peace with the planet. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  14. Constanza, R. (1992). Balancing humans in the biosphere. In L. Grant (Ed.).Elephants in the Volkswagen: Facing tough questions about our overcrowded country (pp. 50–59). New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  15. Council on Environmental Quality (1976).Environmental Quality—1976. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Quoted in R. Jackson (1981).Land use in America (p. 129). New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  16. Crossette, B. (1995, February 5). U.N. meeting plans to discuss crisis in world food supply.The New York Times, p. 12.Google Scholar
  17. Darnton, R. (1975). Writing news and telling stories.Daedalus, 104(2), 175–194.Google Scholar
  18. Detjen, J. (1992, Nov. 19). Scientists: Earth near danger level. Knight-Ridder News Service, quoted inAustin American Statesman, p. A6.Google Scholar
  19. Edelman, M. J. (1993). Contestable categories and public opinion.Political Communication, 10(3), 231–242.Google Scholar
  20. Ehrlich, P. (1968).The population bomb. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  21. Ehrlich, P. (1989, Winter). Speaking out on overpopulation: A conspiracy of silence is limiting action on the world's most basic environmental problem.Issues in Science and Technology, 5(2), 36–37.Google Scholar
  22. Ehrlich, P., & Ehrlich, A. (1990).The population explosion. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  23. Ehrlich, P., & Ehrlich, A. (1992). The most overpopulated nation. In L. Grant (Ed.).Elephants in the Volkswagen: Facing tough questions about our overcrowded country, (pp. 125–133). New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  24. Entman, R. (1989).Democracy without citizens. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58.Google Scholar
  26. Gans, H. (1979).Deciding what's news. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  27. Gandy, O. (1982).Beyond agenda-setting. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  28. Goodkin, L. (1974).When real estate and home building become big business: Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. Boston: Cahners Books.Google Scholar
  29. Graber, D. (1989). Content and meaning: What's it all about?American Behavioral Scientist, 33(2), 144–152.Google Scholar
  30. Griffin, R., & Molen, D., & Schoenfeld, C., & Scotton, J. (1991).Interpreting public issues. Ames: Iowa State University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Harrison, P. (1992).The third revolution. London: I. B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  32. Hart, R. (1987).The sound of leadership: Presidential communication in the modern age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Homer-Dixon, T., & Boutwell, J., & Rathjens, G. (1993). Environmental change and violent conflict: Growing scarcities of renewable resources can contribute to social instability and civil strife.Scientific American, 268(2), pp. 38–45.Google Scholar
  34. Hovland, C. I., & Lumsdaine, A. A., & Sheffield, F. D. (1965).Experiments on mass communication. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  35. Howell, D. (1992).Scientific literacy and environmental policy: The missing prerequisite for sound decision making. New York: Quorum Books.Google Scholar
  36. Hueber, G. (1991, April). Americans report high levels of environmental concern, activity.The Gallup Poll Monthly, pp. 6–7.Google Scholar
  37. Iyengar, S. (1989). How citizens think about national issues: A matter of responsibility.American Journal of Political Science, 33(4), 878–900.Google Scholar
  38. Iyengar, S. (1991).Is anyone responsible? How television frames political issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Jackson, R. (1981).Land use in America. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  40. Kaniss, P. (1991).Making local news. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kingdon, J. (1973).Congressmen's voting decisions. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  42. Lazarsfeld, P. F.. Berelson, B., & Gaudet, H. (1968).The people's choice: How the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Linsky, M. (1988). The media and public deliberation. In R. Reich (Ed.).The power of public ideas (pp. 205–228). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  44. Lippmann, W. (1922).Public opinion. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  45. McCartney, H. (1987, Spring). Applying fiction conflict situations to analysis of news stories.Journalism Quarterly, 64, 163–170.Google Scholar
  46. McCombs, M., Einsiedel, E., & Weaver, D. (1991).Contemporary public opinion. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. (1972). The agenda-setting function of mass media.Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176–185.Google Scholar
  48. McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. (1977). Agenda-setting and the political process. In D. Shaw & M. McCombs (Eds.).The emergence of American political issues: The agenda-setting function of the press (pp.149–156). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing.Google Scholar
  49. McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. (1993). The evolution of agenda-setting research: Twenty-five years in the marketplace of ideas.Journal of Communication, 43(2), 58–68.Google Scholar
  50. McMahan, J. (1976).Property development: Effective decision making in uncertain times. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  51. Molotch, H. (1976). The city as growth machine: Toward a political economy of place.American Journal of Sociology, 82(2), 309–332.Google Scholar
  52. Molotch, H., & Lester, W. (1974). News as purposive behavior.American Sociological Review, 39, 101–122.Google Scholar
  53. Myers, N. (1991).Population, resources, and the environment: The critical challenges. New York: United Nations Population Fund.Google Scholar
  54. Newport, F., & Saad, L. (1992, May). Public support mixed for U.S. efforts to curb world overpopulation.The Gallup Poll Monthly, 320, 34–41.Google Scholar
  55. Noelle-Neumann, E. (1984).The spiral of silence: Public opinion, our social skin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  56. Orians, C. E., & Skumanich, M. (1995).The population-environment connection: What does it mean for environmental policy? (Report issued under contract DE-AC06-76RLO 1830). Washington, DC: Futures Studies Unit, Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  57. Paletz, D., Reichert, P., & Mclntyre, B. (1971). How the media support local governmental authority.Public Opinion Quarterly, 80–92.Google Scholar
  58. Pan, Z., & Kosicki, G. (1993, January–March). Framing analysis: An approach to news discourse.Political Communication, 10(1), 55–75.Google Scholar
  59. Pew Global Stewardship Initiative (1993).Report of findings from focus groups on population, consumption, and the environment. Washington, DC: Beiden & Russonello Research and Communications.Google Scholar
  60. Pimentel, D., & Pimentel, M. (1992). Land, energy, and water: The constraints governing ideal U.S. population size. In L. Grant (Ed.).Elephants in the Volkswagen: Facing tough questions about our overcrowded country (pp. 18–31). New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  61. Postel, S. (1993). Facing water scarcity. In L. Starke (Ed.).State of the world, 1993 (pp. 22–41). New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  62. Reese, S., & Danielian, L. (1989). Intermedia influence and the drug issue: Converging on cocaine. In P. Shoemaker (Ed.).Communication campaigns about drugs. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  63. Rogers, E., Dearing, J., & Bregman, D. (1993). The anatomy of agenda-setting research.Journal of Communication, 43(2), 68–85.Google Scholar
  64. Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences (1992). The Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences on population growth and sustainability.Population and Development Review 18(2), 375–378.Google Scholar
  65. Sears, P. (1956). The process of environmental change by man. Originally published in W. E. Thomas (Ed.).Man's role in changing the face of the Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Reprinted in R. L. Smith (Ed.), (1972).The ecology of man: An ecosystems approach (pp. 129–138). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  66. Simon, J. (1981).The ultimate resource. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Simon, J. (1990).Population matters. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  68. Spitzer, R. (Ed.). (1993).Media and public policy. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  69. Stocking, H., & Gross, P. (1989).How do journalists think? A proposal for the study of cognitive bias in newsmaking. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills.Google Scholar
  70. Tuchman, G. (1978).Making news: A study in the construction of reality. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  71. Ward, B., & Dubos, R. (1972).Only one Earth. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  72. Wenk, Jr., E. (1986).Tradeoffs: Imperatives of choice in a high-tech world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Werbos, P. (1992). Energy and population: Transitional issues and eventual limits. In L. Grant (Ed.).Elephants in the Volkswagen: Facing tough questions about our overcrowded country (pp. 32–49). New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  74. Wheeler, T. (Speaker/Moderator). (1994).Covering population as a local story (Cassette tape 5, Society of Environmental Journalists Fourth National Conference). Sylva, NC: Goodkind of Sound.Google Scholar
  75. Wimmer, R., & Dominick, J. (1983).Mass media research: An introduction (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Michael Maher
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of CommunicationUniversity of Southwestern LouisianaLafayette

Personalised recommendations