Newspapers' Web Sites Add Little to Print Version of Environmental News

Article excerpt

Americans have become increasingly concerned with the interaction of our society and the environment (1) and have turned to the news media for information on that interaction. To quench the public thirst for information, the news media have increased their coverage of environmental issues. (2)

Critics, however, say this coverage is fraught with problems. One common complaint is that the media do not put issues into proper context. (3) Context, defined as coherent analysis that helps makes complex topics understandable, is necessary in newspaper reporting because of competition from other media such as television and radio, which offer little context. (4) In addition, research has shown that readers learn more from articles with background and context included. (5) Another frequent criticism of environmental coverage is that it is too focused on controversy, (6) which could mean space that could have been devoted to context is spent explaining battle lines. The World Wide Web, with its unlimited space and hyperlinking ability, offers news organizations the potential to correct such flaws. (7)

This study examines the types of context leading U.S. daily newspapers include in their environmental coverage and whether they are using the Web's potential to improve context in their coverage. The following research questions are posed:

RQ1:

How much and what types of context do leading U.S. daily newspapers provide in their print versions of environmental articles?

RQ2:

Are leading U.S. daily newspapers using the Internet to provide more context in online versions of environmental articles than in the print versions?

RQ3:

Does presence of an adversarial frame relate to the amount of context provided?

Method

A content analysis was conducted to get a picture of what is typical in both print and Web coverage of the environment in leading U.S. dailies.

The four opinion-leading newspapers in the country are The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. (8) USA Today was used in this study in place of The Wail Street Journal because of USA Today's greater circulation and influence. (9) The Christian Science Monitor, another national newspaper, also was examined because of its depth in science and environmental coverage.

Most Web content analyses emphasize data collection during a particular time frame because of rapidly changing site content and lack of uniform archiving standards online. (10) Therefore, this study is based on data from a fixed, three-week period (Feb. 22 to March 14, 2001). Each print version of an environmental article collected during the sample period was one unit of analysis and the Web version of the article was another. All environmental articles identified in the print version of the newspaper were included in the study. (11) Two coders tracked the print newspapers for any environmental articles and then looked for articles on me respective newspaper's Web site. (12)

This study borrows nine measures of context from prior research, each coded as present (1) or not present (0). These were references to research on which the articles was based, historical context, (13) comparisons using similar examples, (14) references to other related research, sources of additional information, (15) maps, photographs, diagrams/illustrations and audio and/or video. Scores from the variables above were added to produce a context score, which theoretically could range from zero to nine. In addition, the number of paragraphs and number of visual elements were recorded. Finally, the presence of an adversarial frame, or dichotomy or duality, was noted. The most obvious example of such a frame is a representation of issues in terms of two distinct, mutually exclusive camps. (16)

Results

Two-hundred and fifteen environmental articles were coded from the print versions of the five newspapers. …