A new poll found that 79% of Americans believe news coverage of the environment should be improved. The national poll was commissioned by the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage and conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation.
The results of the poll confirm that regardless of age, race, income or region of the country, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe news coverage of our environment should be improved.
According to the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the news media plays a critical role in the creation of a more environmentally literate and responsible society. As mainstream news organizations choose to improve their coverage in this arena, it serves to de-politicize the environmental issues that we all face and supports better understanding and the uptake of real solutions.
Despite the clear societal value, however, the quantity of environmental coverage isn’t improving. In fact, news coverage of environmental issues fell from 2% in 2010 to 1% in 2011. Meanwhile sports and lifestyle coverage each garnered double that of the environment, and celebrity coverage remained equal to environmental coverage according to the 2011 News Coverage Index from the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
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“The poll affirms the fact that Americans want better coverage,” says Shannon Binns, project manager at PIEC. “They’re tired of the gamesmanship and the politics.”
Environmental stories currently make up a miniscule fraction of mainstream news coverage in the US. According to the Pew Research Center’s Year in News index, only 1 percent of news stories in 2011 covered stories on the environment—down from a whopping 2 percent in 2010. Campaign and election coverage, in contrast, made up roughly 11 percent. And more often than not these stories are relegated to special “environment” sections, which Binns says marginalizes environmental stories instead of integrating them more fully into what we consider news.
“The unique thing about the environment is that it touches on so many other issues. The mainstream media tends to focus on the problems and the controversies around the problems, but really people just want to know how these things are going to affect their lives,” says Binns.
Somewhat surprisingly, age made no difference as it relates to citizen attitudes on this topic. In fact, 79% of 18-24 years old and 79% of those over 65 felt coverage should be improved. Regionally there was very little variation with 77% of those polled in the Northeast, Midwest, and West feeling news coverage should be improved.
Level of education also had little impact on Americans’ views with 83% of those who have a high school diploma or less and 76% of college graduates believing coverage should be improved. By race, 88% of African-Americans polled shared this view versus 79% of Hispanics and 77% of whites suggesting that concern over environmental issues may actually be slightly higher for non-whites than whites.
“This poll tells us that there is a shared common interest in being better informed about environmental issues” said Tyson Miller, project director. “News organizations act as filters for what we perceive as important and improving the quality of environmental coverage has significant social value and is something news consumers want.”
The poll also asked Americans about how they felt news coverage of the environment could be improved and several choices were provided. Over half (51%) felt all of the following would help improve coverage:
· Making the relationship between the environment and other issues more clear
· Focusing more on solutions
· Making environmental stories more appealing to a larger cross section of society
· Making environmental news more visible by including in top headlines
Each of these four strategies is included in the national Vision for Improved Environmental Coverage, which was launched earlier this year.
The Project for Improved Environmental Coverage (PIEC) is dedicated to working in a collaborative manner to support improved environmental coverage across the full spectrum of news platforms. For more information, visit www.environmentalcoverage.org.