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Context is Key: The Media Role in Shaping Public Perceptions about Environmental Issues

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Disciplines
  • Ecology
  • Geography

Abstract

Many environmental professionals are reluctant to interact with the media, often because of a negative experience and the perception that poor coverage can affect environmental programs and policies. Usinga case study of media coverage related to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, water supply, this research documents that indeed, the media can influence public opinion and this can have policy and program implications. This research compared media coverage about various water customers (residential, commercial, institutional, industry) to public perceptions about who uses the most water and to actual use levels reported by the city. The resultsshow that coverage in terms of numbers of articles, article content and language, as well as page placement, correlates with public perceptions about which customers use the most water, and that these perceptions do not well match actual use levels. A key point for this work is that although the information presented within the individual articles was largely accurate, it was the pool of coverage assessed as a whole that misrepresented water use levels. This report also provides key steps that environmental professionals can take to help improve overall coverage and help raise the potential for public perception to better match actual data.

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