Environmental coverage in the news is critical for increasing public awareness and concern, fostering greater stewardship and ensuring better informed policy, yet research shows that environmental stories garner just 1 percent of headlines and media and communications represent just 3 percent of environmental grant-making. In 2013, network executives encouraged the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage (PIEC) to coordinate a process to identify the top environmental issues in need of deeper societal understanding and a framework for achieving this objective. This document is a culmination of the effort and will ideally serve to inform and increase philanthropic support for environmental journalism and coordinate efforts of concerned stakeholders throughout the industry. An adapted version has also been developed for news industry professionals.
Visibility Equates to Value: Beyoncé vs. Deforestation—The Case Is Clear
Despite some increases in environmental topic visibility in the news over the past few years, when compared to trivial and celebrity “news,” the data is troubling. As is evidenced below, just one celebrity, Beyoncé garnered more than eleven times more visibility than deforestation in 2014 from a combined thirty-three U.S. news organizations analyzed.
Decades of research and hundreds of studies have documented the “agenda-setting” effects of the media—that public opinion about the relative importance of an issue is directly influenced by the amount of media coverage the issue receives. Given the urgency of many environmental issues and the number of people affected by environmental degradation (one could easily argue everyone in the world is impacted) increased visibility in the news seems appropriate. Greater visibility in the news media would likely cause many more individuals, corporations, and political leaders to consider environmental implications of large and small decisions on a daily basis. The cumulative impact of a more environmentally conscious society could have substantial environmental benefits.
What Needs to Change: Opportunities for Innovation
This framework identifies capacity needs and opportunities for deepening a national environmental stewardship ethic through sustaining and expanding environmental coverage in the news. The work has been guided through a working-group process with participation from eighteen practitioners and thought leaders. Some of our key findings from this process include the following:
- Nonprofit, public, and independent news organizations are filling critical gaps, and a need exists to increase capacity and expand the visibility of these organizations.
- Commercial newsrooms have massive reach and are in need of sustained support and engagement efforts.
- There is a real need for tools and resources to make coverage of environmental issues easier for journalists and research that will guide future strategy and foster industry accountability.
- Strengthening a coalition of stakeholders working on this issue will build important synergies.