Searching for Solutions that Stick: U.S. Media Attention on Climate Change 2007 – 2011

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Chistik Hantel, Katya


Shapiro, Elizabeth

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Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, and though cohesive solutions remain elusive, U.S. media attention on climate change is decreasing. This master’s project examines how media attention on climate change solutions has changed over time and makes recommendations on how coverage trends can be influenced. Two broad solutions frames were chosen for the study: “market” solutions that address human behavior utilizing market forces (e.g. cap-and-trade, carbon tax), and “technology” solutions that focus on developing technological tools to support more climate-friendly behavior (e.g. renewable energy). The study examined 444 media articles published from January 2007- September 2011 in the Associated Press, Reuters News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Each article was coded according to a numerical rating scale for how prevalent the solution was in the media article, as well as if it was reported as being an effective solution (positive tonality) or ineffective solution (negative tonality). Articles were analyzed for characteristics aligning with the five phases of Anthony Downs’ issue-attention cycle: 1) Pre-Problem, with attention from niche audiences only; 2) Alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm for addressing the issue quickly; 3) Increasing negativity as the cost of progress is realized; 4) Gradual decline of intense public interest; and 5) Post-problem, when issue attention drops off. Findings show that U.S. media coverage of both market and technology solutions to climate change follows Downs’ issue-attention cycle, though there are phase variations for each solution. Decreasing coverage volume and increasingly negative tonality 2007-2011 was observed for both market and technology solutions, aligning with Downs’ characteristics of issue-attention cycle Phases 2-4. Several topics were consistently associated with short-term increases in coverage around a solution, a relationship that indicates that they may play a role in driving media attention to these solutions. Media consistently reported on technology solutions more favorably than market solutions. A tendency for individual politicians and political infighting to negatively impact tonality was observed, as were instances of media favoring an “underdog” in solutions implementation. Based on these findings, several recommendations are included for communicators looking for ways to increase U.S. media attention on market and technology climate change solutions in Phase 4 and 5 of the issue-attention cycle.





Chistik Hantel, Katya (2012). Searching for Solutions that Stick: U.S. Media Attention on Climate Change 2007 – 2011. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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