"Keep It Wild, Keep It Local": Comparing News Media and the Internet as Sites for Environmental Movement Activism for Jumbo Pass, British Columbia

By Stoddart, Mark C. J.; MacDonald, Laura | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

"Keep It Wild, Keep It Local": Comparing News Media and the Internet as Sites for Environmental Movement Activism for Jumbo Pass, British Columbia


Stoddart, Mark C. J., MacDonald, Laura, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Social movements, including environmentalism, rely on the mass media to gain visibility for their issues, to reach potential supporters, and to engage opponents and governments in public debate (Gamson 2007; Gitlin 1980; Hannigan 2006; Hansen 2010). Through media coverage, environmental movements attempt to challenge and transform North Americans' understanding of the global climate, old growth forests, and our interactions with wildlife. In this way, the mass media have a profound effect on the ways in which nature becomes political.

We examine the case of eco-political conflict over Jumbo Pass--the site of a proposed ski resort in British Columbia--to analyze how the internet functions as a more open public sphere than traditional mass media for environmentalist communication. Conflict over the development has lasted over twenty years, involving resort proponents, several environmental movement organizations, and a succession of New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberal provincial governments. Environmentalists oppose the development because it risks disrupting local wildlife populations, particularly grizzly bears. Jumbo Glacier Resort was granted "Resort Municipality" status by the provincial government in 2009 and the project continues to move slowly forward, despite ongoing opposition from environmental groups. In this paper, we compare newspaper coverage of this conflict from the Vancouver Sun, Globe and Mail, and National Post, with an analysis of web content produced by the environmental organizations cited in news media coverage.

A large body of research focuses on media coverage of eco-political conflict over forestry practices in British Columbia (Arvai and Mascarenhas 2001; Cormier and Tindall 2005; Doyle et al. 1997; Rossiter 2004; Stoddart 2005). Far less work focuses on environmental movement mobilization against tourism and outdfoor recreation, whether in B.C. or elsewhere (Barnes 2009; Kousis 2000; Stoddart 2011). Outdoor recreation and nature tourism are often assumed to be environmentally benign, particularly in comparison with natural resource extraction. Environmental movement mobilization around the ecological harms of tourism and recreation must disturb these assumptions in order to be successful. Little attention has been paid to environmentalists' use of media within the limited body of research in this area.

Our research fills this gap by focusing on environmental movement uses of media in conflict over the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort. Environmental websites and mass media texts both define the region as wilderness and grizzly bear habitat, while also focusing on issues of local democracy. There is a degree of consonance between mass media representations of the Jumbo conflict and claims made through environmental websites. However, environmentalist websites go beyond mass media coverage as they discuss a greater range of environmental risks and provide more detailed discussion of these issues. Our results support claims that the internet increases the capacity of social movements to raise substantive issues and mobilize supporters (della Porta and Mosca 2005; Earl and Kimport 2011; Rohlinger and Brown 2009). However, the modes of political participation encouraged online are heavily guided and work on a model of simplifying and "supersizing" traditional forms of activism, rather than generating new modes of protest (Earl and Kimport 2011).

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The relationship between social movements and journalists has been characterized as one of "asymmetrical dependency" (Carroll and Ratner 1999). Journalists enjoy the discretion to select stories and news sources. As a result, social movement organizations must make their issues newsworthy enough to gain coverage. This is often done by engaging in dramatic acts of protest, including civil disobedience or large rallies (Boykoff 2006; Doyle 2003; Smith et al. 2001). While creating drama and spectacle may gain access for social movements, the substantive content of movement claims can be weakened or lost altogether. …

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