Environment and the Media

by Gesa Luedecke and Maxwell T. Boykoff

The International Encyclopedia of Geography (2017)
D. Richardson, N. Castree, M. F. Goodchild, A. Kobayashi, W. Liu, and R. A. Marston (Eds.) [pdf]

Excerpt: Media range from entertainment to news media, spanning traditional or mass media such as television, films, books, flyers, newspapers, magazines, and radio, as well as new media such as the Internet in general, Web 2.0, and social media. Traditional media rely on one-to-many (often monodirectional) communications and are sometimes referred to as “mass media,” whereas new or social media involve many-to-many, more interactive, webs of communications. Since the 1990s, the shift from traditional to new media has signaled substantive changes in how people access and interact with information, who has access to it, and who are considered “authorized” definers (e.g., actors with more power and influence than others) of the various dimensions of environmental issues. It is argued that new and social media have democratizing influences, as these channels of communication often offer a platform for more people to become content producers, and therefore have the potential to more readily shape the public agenda.

In all media, actors such as publishers, editors, journalists, and other content producers such as online bloggers generate, interpret, and communicate images, information, and imaginaries for varied forms of consumption. These “media representations” are therefore critical inputs to what becomes public discourse on today’s environmental issues.

As an example, climate change as a highly politicized media topic, especially in the United States, illustrates how (powerful) groups with diverging political ideologies, worldviews, or economic interests heavily influence the public debate on climate change. Recent studies on worldwide media coverage of climate change (Boykoff et al. 2015; see Figure 1), as well as on climate discourse and the interconnection of media, politics, and public opinion, suggest that media agendas match public agendas on the perception of climate change and policy implications (Hmielowski et al. 2014; Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins 2010; McCright and Dunlap 2011; Boykoff and Roberts 2007; Boykoff and Boykoff 2004; Weingart and Engels 2000). Through a web of interactions, the media have thereby influenced a range of processes from formal environmental policy to informal notions of public understanding about the environment. Read more …

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