, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 319–331 | Cite as

Evolution of newspaper coverage of water issues in Australia during 1843–2011

  • Jing Wei
  • Yongping Wei
  • Andrew Western
  • Dominic Skinner
  • Clive Lyle


News accounts both reflect and influence public opinion through their noted ‘agenda-setting’ capability. We examined newspaper articles in Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald from 1843 to 2011 to observe the evolution of media coverage on water issues related to water resources management. The results showed that water supply-related articles have dominated the reporting of water issues since 1843. This emphasis is reflected in the institutions involved and their related policy/management initiatives, as well as the themes of the articles. Extreme events such as flooding and drought have punctuated the historical record of reports on water issues. An economic development-driven tone was overwhelmingly predominant in newspaper articles (85 % of the total); however, there has been a marked decline in the importance of development-driven tone relative to environmental-sustainability oriented tone of articles since 1994. People from academia and NGOs were rarely quoted. Inclusion of wider range stakeholders should be considered as a strategic break-through and natural events should be considered as an “opportunity” to change public opinion on water issues for environmental sustainability.


Water catchment management Murray–Darling Basin Media content analysis Newspaper coverage 



This work was funded by the Australian Research Council (Project No: ARCDP120102917), the Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No: 91125007) and the Commonwealth of Australia under the Australia-China Science and Research Fund (Project No: ACSRF800).


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jing Wei
    • 1
  • Yongping Wei
    • 1
  • Andrew Western
    • 1
  • Dominic Skinner
    • 1
  • Clive Lyle
    • 2
  1. 1.The Department of Infrastructure EngineeringThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Honorary Principle ScientistThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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