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This study explores two pre-eminent features of transnational media coverage of climate change: The framing of climate change as a harmful, human-induced risk and the way that reporting handles contrarian voices in the climate debate. The analysis shows how journalists, and their interpretations and professional norms, shape media debates about climate change. The study links an analysis of media content to a survey of the authors of the respective articles. It covers leading print and online news outlets in Germany, India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Switzerland. It finds that climate journalism has moved beyond the norm of balance towards a more interpretive pattern of journalism. Quoting contrarian voices still is part of transnational climate coverage, but these quotes are contextualized with a dismissal of climate change denial. Yet niches of denial persist in certain contexts, and much journalistic attention is focused on the narrative of ‘warners vs. deniers,’ and overlooks the more relevant debates about climate change.
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Brüggemann, Michael; Engesser, Sven (2017): Beyond false balance. How interpretive journalism 1
shapes media coverage of climate change. In Global Environmental Change 42, pp. 58-67. DOI: 2
[Final accepted manuscript] 4
Beyond false balance: 6
How interpretive journalism shapes media coverage of climate change 7
Abstract: 8
This study explores two pre-eminent features of transnational media coverage of climate 9
change: The framing of climate change as a harmful, human-induced risk and the way that reporting 10
handles contrarian voices in the climate debate. The analysis shows how journalists, and their 11
interpretations and professional norms, shape media debates about climate change. The study links 12
an analysis of media content to a survey of the authors of the respective articles. It covers leading 13
print and online news outlets in Germany, India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and 14
Switzerland. It finds that climate journalism has moved beyond the norm of balance towards a more 15
interpretive pattern of journalism. Quoting contrarian voices still is part of transnational climate 16
coverage, but these quotes are contextualized with a dismissal of climate change denial. Yet niches of 17
denial persist in certain contexts, and much journalistic attention is focused on the narrative of 18
warners vs. deniers,’ and overlooks the more relevant debates about climate change. 19
Keywords: 20
Climate change; journalism; skeptics; denial; journalistic norms; balance 21
1. Introduction 22
While scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change has been growing in recent 23
decades (Anderegg et al., 2010; Cook et al., 2013; Oreskes, 2004), public opinion has also become 24
increasingly uncertain about the urgency of climate change as a problem (Patt and Weber, 2014; 25
Ratter et al., 2012). Citizens of the biggest carbon emitters of the world (the United States and China) 26
are even less concerned about climate change than people from other countries (PEW, 2015). 27
Outright denial of climate change persists among salient minorities in the United States, United 28
Kingdom, and Australia, and in small niche publics in other countries (Capstick and Pidgeon, 2014; 29
European Commission, 2014; Leiserowitz et al., 2013, 2013; Whitmarsh, 2011). One reason for this 30
entrenched denialism in public opinion may be the way the media portray the scientific consensus on 31
climate change as represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 32
(IPCC). By providing a forum for contrarian views, the media “perpetuate the myth of a lack of 33
international scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate changeand thereby succeed in 34
maintaining public confusion” (Antilla, 2005: 350). Various studies have shown the detrimental 35
effects of ‘balanced’ media coverage that depict climate change as an open debate between 36
‘skeptics’ and ‘warners’ (with regards to public debates about vaccines, see: Dixon and Clarke, 2013; 37
Lewandowsky et al., 2013). Thus, the study of media content and its influencing factors is not only 38
relevant for scholars of journalism, but also for everyone seeking to understand how societies 39
struggle to deal with the challenge of climate change. 40
Our study tackles this challenge by analyzing how the IPCC stance on climate change and its 41
challengers are covered in different journalistic media. We seek to explain different patterns of 42
media content by taking into account the influence of different editorial and national contexts. The 43
study contributes to our understanding of how and why contrarian views remain salient in media 44
debates. It is based on a content analysis of articles (N = 936) published in four different types of 45
leading news outlets (left-leaning, right-leaning, regional, online) in five countries (Germany, India, 46
Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States), and is complemented by a survey of the authors of 47
these articles. We argue that a common explanation for the presence of climate change denial in 48
media coverageadherence to the journalistic norm of balance (Boykoff and Boykoff, 2004)can no 49
longer be regarded as the most powerful driver of climate coverage. Instead we find a transnational 50
pattern of interpretive journalism that puts the denial of anthropogenic climate change into context. 51
2. Analytical framework and state of research: journalists’ role in the climate debate 52
To assess how journalists report on climate change and how they deal with its denial, it is 53
first necessary to describe what we call the climate change frame or IPCC view, as well as the 54
contrarian voices in public debates. The climate change frame or consensus as presented in IPCC 55
reports and in scientific journals may be summarized in four statements (Brüggemann and Engesser, 56
2014; Shehata and Hopmann, 2012): (1) Global warming represents an extraordinary rise in average 57
global temperatures since the industrial revolution. (2) It is mainly caused by human-induced 58
emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. (3) It creates problems for both ecosystems and 59
humanity. (4) Emissions need to be reduced to avoid future damage. These statements allow us to 60
identify four types of contrarianism or challenges to the climate change frame; they focus on 61
doubting: the trend (climate change), the attribution (anthropogenic), the impact (risks, severe 62
problems), and the treatment (reducing emissions) (see Rahmstorf (2004) for the first three types of 63
contrarianism). This framework does not capture all variants of contrarian claims (Capstick and 64
Pidgeon, 2014); it focuses on the challenges that attack the core of the consensus among the world’s 65
leading climate scientists. 66
We call actors who challenge the climate change frame in public debates contrariansrather 67
than skepticsor ‘deniers,’ following a suggestion by McCright (2007) and O’Neill and Boykoff (2010). 68
There are few climate scientists among the contrarians; the group is comprised of people from 69
different backgrounds, many of whom are closely connected to professional lobbyists and the denial 70
machine(Dunlap and McCright, 2011) i.e., their professional activities are part of a strategy to 71
prevent pro-active climate policy-making (Boussalis and Coan, 2016). Contrarians as visible speakers 72
in public debates need to be distinguished from both individual citizens who may have doubts about 73
climate change and from actors who challenge more specific claims in the climate debate that are 74
not part of the basic consensus outlined above. 75
The journalistic practices of (1) giving disproportionate voice to contrarians and (2) 76
challenging the climate change consensus will be the focus of our study. The two practices are 77
interrelated but do not necessarily go together as the empirical analysis will show. First, we will 78
briefly sketch a conceptual framework of important factors that shape media content. Three levels of 79
influence can be distinguished: individual (journalist), organizational (newsroom), and external (e.g. 80
social institutions and culture) (cf. Shoemaker and Reese, 2014). In different contexts, the 81
discretionary power(Semetko et al., 1991) of individual journalists varies: They are provided with 82
more or less leverage to set the frames of their coverage (Brüggemann, 2014). On all three levels of 83
influence, two main forces leave their imprint on media coverage: ideological biases and structural 84
media logics (Schulz, 2011: 68). Biases are preferences or inclinations to treat a topic in a certain way 85
(Lee and Grimmer, 2008) that stem from individual journalists, editors, external actors, and the wider 86
cultural context. ‘Media logic(s)’ include the professional norms and routines of journalists and 87
newsrooms, which Altheide (2004, p. 294) defines as “assumptions and processes for constructing 88
messages within a particular medium.The most powerful media logics are news factors such as 89
novelty, elite actors, or proximity: editors look for these attributes when deciding which stories to 90
run, and journalists emphasize them in their coverage (Galtung and Ruge, 1965). 91
Past studies have found evidence that the power of bias and media logics at different levels
of influence explains the role of contrarians in climate coverage. Depending on ideological bias, 93
climate change is depicted as more or less uncertain, and climate policy is described as more or less 94
costly, depending on the policies of the respective national government (Grundmann, 2007). Below 95
the national level that introduces this kind of political/cultural bias, newsroom policies affect climate 96
coverage; right-leaning media are more likely to cite contrarian views (Carvalho, 2007; Feldman et 97
al., 2015; Feldman et al., 2011). There is also evidence that the ideological stance of the individual 98
author matters: right-wing columnists in the United States cultivate hard-core denialism of climate 99
change in their columns (Elsasser and Dunlap, 2013). Hence, different interpretations of climate 100
change, which are often strongly related to political ideology, influence the coverage of this issue. 101
Explanations drawing on media logics particularly the professional norms of journalism 102
are strongly connected to the work of Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) who emphasize the professional 103
norm of balance as an important influencing factor: "[...] journalists present competing points of 104
views on a scientific question as though they had equal scientific weight, when actually they do not’’ 105
(127). The norm of balance is part of the broader concept of objectivity (Westerstahl, 1983), which 106
calls on journalists to provide a neutralaccount by giving equal voice to both sides in a conflict 107
(Hopmann et al., 2012). Journalists follow this practice as it allows them to demonstrate their 108
professional objectivity and to fend off accusations of one-sided coverage (Gans, 1979; Tuchman, 109
1972). Balance also serves as a "surrogate for validity checks" (Dunwoody and Peters, 1992: 129) if 110
journalists lack the time or expertise to assess the validity of conflicting statements from different 111
sources. Earlier research on environmental and science journalists in the United States cited evidence 112
of their lack of knowledge about what climate experts consider to be basic common in climate 113
research (Wilson, 2000). The norm of balance is particularly powerful in cases of contested 114
knowledge claims and a lack of expertise among the journalists who cover the respective issue. 115
Finally, conflicts create news value and thus stories that grasp audience attention. The presence of 116
contrarians in media coverage may therefore be explained by either bias (ideological fit) as outlined 117
above or as part of journalistic norms (objectivity/balance) and routines (news values). Yet applying 118
the norm of balance amplifies the views of contrarians (which may attract audience attention) and 119
distorts coverage of the issue. By quoting contrarian voices out of context, journalists give them 120
legitimacy and media standingthat might also translate into political power (Gamson and Wolfsfeld, 121
1993). 122
Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) examined the coverage of climate change in US newspapers from 123
1988 to 2002, and found that half of the articles presented a balanced account of the issue; slightly 124
more than half of the television newscasts analyzed during that time did so (Boykoff, 2008). A 125
replication of the study found the share of balanced coverage reduced from more than a third of all 126
articles in 2003 to about three percent in 2006 in US newspapers (Boykoff, 2007). Thus, balanced 127
reporting may be retreating, but contrarians have not necessarily vanished from the media. Painter 128
and Gavin (2016) find that the British press quoted contrarians in every fifth article during the years 129
2007 to 2011. Schmid-Petri et al. (2015) find that almost a third of articles in the US press contain 130
contrarian voices. Have journalists therefore moved on to a one-sided promotion of denial of climate 131
change, which would be proof of ideological bias, rather than adhere to professional logics such as 132
the norm of balanced coverage? 133
A recent survey of journalists covering climate change in different countries found that most 134
of them strongly agreed with the climate change consensus (Brüggemann and Engesser, 2014). 135
Therefore, it seems that they quote contrarians despite being aware that their claims defy the 136
findings of climate science. A much earlier US study identified a journalistic tendency to amplify 137
outlier views and givemavericksa forum: Dearing (1995) analyzed US newspaper coverage of three 138
maverick science stories (e.g., propagating an alternative theory on the cause of AIDS). Our study 139
follows his model of analyzing the content of coverage and then conducting a survey of the authors
of the articles. Dearing found that the surveyed journalists were aware that the maverick scientists141
did not represent credible science, yet the articles’ neutral coverage of their views gave the 142
mavericks credibility. Dearing explained this with news values such as conflict that attract larger 143
audiences as well as a general sympathy for mavericks in US public culture, which values 144
individualism expressed through outlier views (also see Gans (1979)). 145
Another trend in journalism should be considered for making sense of the finding that 146
balanced coverage may be gone, but not so, the quoting of contrarian voices. Studies find a trend 147
towards interpretive reporting among online science journalists (Fahy and Nisbet, 2011) and in 148
political journalism in different Western countries (Esser and Umbricht, 2014). Hiles and Hinnant 149
(2014) found a radically redefined understanding of objectivity among experienced climate 150
journalists that goes beyond ‘balanced coverage.’ They found that while these specialist journalists 151
still attempted to refrain from letting their biases influence their coverage, they followed “weight-of-152
evidence reporting(Dunwoody, 2005) in which stories reflect scientific consensus and are “written 153
with authority” (Hiles and Hinnant, 2014: 15), thereby distinguishing between views that represent 154
valid, peer-reviewed science and those that represent outliers with no backing from scientific 155
evidence or peers (Boykoff, 2011). Another qualitative interview study with science journalists in the 156
United States confirms this trend: journalists claim that they want to go “beyond balance” and even 157
ignore contrarian voices (Gibson et al., 2016). 158
Yet, whether these approaches are put into practice has not been comprehensively 159
investigated with regards to different media types in different cultural contexts. Most studies focus 160
on the US and British contexts or on the coverage of upmarket newspapers (Schäfer and Schlichting, 161
2014). Grundmann and Scott (2014) also include France and Germany from 2000 to 2010 and a great 162
number of newspapers using corpus linguistic methods. Their study shows that, overall, contrarians 163
are much less prominent in media discourses than speakers who support the climate change 164
consensus. They also show that countries consistently diverge on the salience of contrarians, with a 165
much stronger entrenchment of contrarian voices in the United States. This is in line with findings 166
from Painter and Ashe (2012), who also included quality papers from Brazil, China, France, and India 167
in their analysis. They compared the coverage in 2007 and 2009/2010 during the UN Climate summit 168
in Copenhagen and, at the same time, ‘Climategate’ (the pseudo scandal constructed around 169
personal e-mails between climate researchers that were published by contrarian bloggers in order to 170
discredit climate research, Holliman (2011)). Overall, these findings show that there is no linear 171
decline in contrarianism in the news, but rather that specific events (or staged pseudo events like 172
Climategate) provide ‘media opportunity structures(Adam et al., 2003) for contrarians to become 173
salient voices in media coverage. This explains why Shehata and Hopmann (2012), who focused on 174
media coverage between 1997 and 2007, did not find contrarians in the news. They studied UN 175
climate conferences, where contrarians have not managed to play a significant political role. This was 176
radically different in the context of the Climategate campaign: the content analysis of Painter and 177
Ashe (2012) found that contrarian views occurred in every third article in the United States, followed 178
by the United Kingdom, while contrarians played only a negligible role in all other countries. 179
Painter and Ashe also found that roughly the same number of articles raised doubts about 180
climate change in right-leaning and left-leaning papers. The only difference was that right-leaning 181
papers hosted contrarianism in their commentary pages, while these sources were quoted in the left-182
leaning newspapers. This confirms the influence of editorial bias on climate coverage: in right-leaning
papers, it is part of the editorial opinion; in left-leaning papers, contrarianism is raised by external 184
voices. Thus, past research has identified the salience of contrarianism and the evaluation of 185
contrarians as an important case for studying the influence of both ideological biases (along the left-186
right spectrum) and journalistic norms (e.g., balance, news values). While the studies mentioned 187
above have pushed the research in this area ahead, there are three main gaps in the literature. 188
The first concerns the role of contrarianism in post-Climategate coverage, after 2010. 189
Climategate was an extraordinary moment of success of political spin, but it remains to be seen 190
whether climate change denial retained a voice in transnational journalism afterwards. Grundmann 191
and Stock (2014) extended their analysis to 2010 and show that after the peak of attention to 192
contrarians, the levels declined, but remained somewhat higher than during earlier times. In Britain, 193
the level of contrarianism in media coverage remained high in 2011 (Painter and Gavin, 2016). 194
Second, Painter and Ashe’s finding that contrarians were equally prominent in right- and left-195
leaning papers raises the question whether (and how) these quotes were evaluated in the coverage. 196
For example, it is not clear whether contrarians were mentioned in the context of how they continue 197
to make unsubstantiated claims with no backing in climate science, whether they were balanced with 198
other voices (as originally posited in the Boykoff and Boykoff study from 2004), or whether 199
unbalanced contrarianism is occurring (as Painter and Gavin (2016) show for parts of the right-200
leaning press in Britain). In this regard, the study by Grundmann and Stock (2012) provides a first 201
hint, as the term Climategate in their co-location analysis linked with the terms ‘stolen’ and hacked202
in the US media, while the British media preferred ‘leaked,’ which indicates that journalists in 203
different countries framed Climategate quite differently. This shows that analysis of the frequency of 204
reporting contrarian viewpoints needs to also include whether and how they were evaluated in the 205
articles. 206
Third, it is unclear whether the quoting of contrarians is motivated by media logic through 207
adherence to journalistic norms (such as balance or news values) or by ideological biases (such as 208
genuine questioning of the validity of climate science). This can best be explored by connecting 209
content analysis data with survey data (following the model introduced in Dearing (1995)). 210
This leads us to posit three research questions: 211
1. To what degree is the climate change frame challenged in international media coverage by 212
expressing contrarian viewpoints? 213
2. How do journalists treat contrarians as voices in journalistic coverage (quotes and evaluations)? 214
3. How can (a) different degrees of challenging the climate change consensus and (b) ways of dealing 215
with contrarians in journalistic coverage be explained? 216
3. Methods 217
This study pursues a comprehensive approach to analyzing climate-related content in the leading 218
news media. It uses a comparative design that varies the contextscontent production and surveys 219
the authors of the articles analyzed. The study includes all types of content (straight news reporting 220
as well as other types of articles), looks at all kinds of contributors of news content (specialized 221
science reporters as well as other authors), and examines articles published in both online and paper 222
formats. 223
3.1 Case selection and sampling 224
Due to the global scope of climate change and our interest in transnational patterns of climate 225
coverage, we included journalists and their news stories from Germany, India, Switzerland, the 226
United Kingdom, and the United States in our study. All five countries have high amounts of CO2 227
emissions (either total or per capita), and are thus likely to feature vivid debates on climate change. 228
Climate change reporting in the industrialized countries features varying degrees of contrarianism: it 229
is relatively high in the United States, medium in the United Kingdom, and low in Germany, 230
Switzerland, and India (Grundmann and Scott, 2014; Painter and Ashe, 2012). India is included as an
exemplary emerging economy that debates climate change not in terms of contrarians vs. climate 232
science but as a conflict between traditional CO2 emitters and the emerging economies (Billett, 2010; 233
Painter, 2011). We selected leading news outlets from different sectors of the media landscape in 234
each country: two upmarket newspapers (preferably one right leaning and one left leaning), one 235
mass-market or mid-market newspaper, one regional newspaper from a complementary 236
metropolitan area, and one major online news outlet (Online Appendix Table A1 further explains the 237
case selection). Our selection of news outlets was inspired by previous studies (Boykoff et al., 2016; 238
Schmidt et al., 2013). Both print and online editions were included. 239
In order to match authors and their articles, the sampling started by identifying the authors 240
of articles on climate change, including specialized journalists and those who occasionally wrote 241
about the topic. Furthermore, the study focused not only on coverage centered around certain key 242
events like Copenhagen and ‘Climate Gate’, but started later and spanned the time of routine 243
coverage after these events (1 January 2011 31 December 2012). We used Google and the search 244
string climate changeOR global warmingOR greenhouse effect(and the equivalents in German). 245
These search strings have been validated in previous studies (e.g. Schmidt et al., 2013). We 246
complemented the web search by including the print versions of the respective news outlets drawn 247
from databases (LexisNexis and Factiva). 248
From this sample, we manually selected all articles that focused on climate change and 249
disclosed author names or abbreviations. From the resulting list of names, we excluded all people 250
who published less than two pertinent articles in order to eliminate those who only coincidentally 251
mentioned climate change in one article. We tested the reliability of this author search procedure on 252
a sub-sample consisting of the articles from one news outlet. Two student coders achieved a 253
satisfactory agreement of 89%. The search generated a survey population of 170 climate journalists, 254
who we invited by e-mail to participate in our bilingual (English and German) online survey (27 255
September 10 October 2012). After several reminders by e-mail and phone, a sample of 62 256
journalists completed the questionnaire. The response rate of 36% can be considered satisfactory for 257
a cross-national online survey of journalists. We matched the survey respondents with their articles 258
(maximum of 30 articles per journalist), which resulted in a core sample of 747 articles. 259
From some outlets, no (or very few) journalists responded to the survey. For those news 260
organizations, the sample was extended so that at least 30 articles from each outlet could be 261
included in the analysis. In this way, an extended sample of 936 articles was generated that reflected 262
the diversity of the journalistic output in 25 different news outlets in five countries. This sample will 263
be used to describe and compare patterns of news content. The explanatory part connecting 264
interviews and survey responses will have to be restricted to the core sample of the articles of 265
journalists who had responded (N = 747) in the survey. In order to test whether there is a bias in the 266
core sample, we compared the percentages for the key variable IPCC index that indicates a 267
journalists agreement with the climate change consensus and found no statistically significant 268
difference between the smaller and the extended samples (index value of M = 0.62 in the core 269
sample, compared to M = 0.57 in the extended sample). 270
The extended sample of the content analysis (N = 936) covered the years 2011 and 2012, 271
which represents a period of modest and routine coverage of climate change. This time frame 272
featured two UN climate summits, COP (Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention 273
on Climate Change) 17 and COP 18, two special IPCC reports, a couple of extreme weather events, 274
such as a hot summer in the United States in 2011 and a hot spring in Europe in 2011, as well as 275
hurricanes Irene and Katia. While the COPs received a substantial amount of coverage in our sample 276
(18%), the special IPCC reports were largely ignored (1%), and weather events comprised 6% of the 277
coverage. Among the most important news pegs were the publication of scientific studies (32%) and 278
the actions of domestic governments (16%). 279
3.2 Measures and coding 280
The IPCC view: The survey measures challenges to the climate change consensus by asking 281
journalists about the scientific validity of the following statements (on a scale from 1 = “scientifically 282
untenableto 5 = scientifically well founded): 283
1. Global warming: The average global temperature has been rising for about 150 years. 284
2. Anthropogenity: Global warming has been largely caused by humans through CO2 285
emissions and other greenhouse gases. 286
3. Risks: The impact of global warming will most likely create major problems for our global 287
ecosystem. 288
4. Emission reduction: Humankind must strongly reduce CO2 emissions in order to limit 289
future global warming. 290
In the content analysis, we coded whether any of these statements was explicitly 291
‘challenged’ (= -1), balanced/not mentioned(= 0), or mentioned/supported(= 1). Mentioning 292
global warmingwithout any challenges or further qualification was coded as support for the claim 293
that the earth is warming. However, ‘balanced’ was almost never coded, as less than a handful of 294
articles openly debated these statements. The four items were averaged into a formative index (IPCC 295
index). 296
Journalistic treatment of contrarians: Journalists may ignore, mention, quote, or evaluate 297
contrarian voices in their coverage. Evaluative contextualization could, for example, call into question 298
or affirm the scientific expertise and authority of contrarians. These different journalistic treatments 299
of contrarians were measured in both the survey and content analysis. The survey asked whether 300
voices that challenge the four statements from the IPCC view should be ignored or given equal voice 301
with other actors in the climate debate. The content analysis coded whether contrarian voices 302
(‘skeptics’) were mentioned and/or quoted, and whether they were contextualized positively, 303
negatively, or in a balancedway. 304
The coding was conducted by a team of six coders. The reliability test was based on a 305
randomized sample of 57 articles using the standardized Lotus reliability coefficient, which is 306
adjusted by chance (for a discussion of the merits of this measure as compared to other coefficients, 307
see Fretwurst, 2015). After a first reliability test failed to generate satisfactory results, the codebook 308
was further simplified and elaborated, and the coders were trained for three additional weeks. The 309
second test (with new articles) provided satisfactory results (see Online Appendix Table A2). 310
4. Findings 311
4.1 Challenges to the anthropogenic climate change frame 312
The IPCC view (climate change consensus) is widely shared across countries and different kinds of 313
media outlets. Figure 1 shows that the four statements that constitute our operationalization of the 314
IPCC view are rarely challenged: in only 2–4% of the articles. Yet, often they are not explicitly 315
mentioned except for the process of warming, which is already indicated in the term ‘global 316
warming.’ The strongly overlapping confidence intervals in Figure 1 indicate that there is no 317
significant difference between the degrees to which the different statements are challenged, and 318
hence between the different kinds of contrarianism. Transnational climate coverage clearly conveys
the climate change consensus. Climate change denial occurs only in niches that will be explored 320
below in more detail. 321
[Insert Figure 1 here]. 322
4.2 Contextualization of contrarians 323
The paradox of climate coverage is that although climate change denial has almost vanished from the 324
coverage of most leading news outlets, contrarians are still being mentioned or quoted in almost 325
every fifth article (see Figure 2) – which is significantly more often than the IPCC is quoted. Yet, the 326
contextualization of contrarians and the IPCC differs: while the IPCC is mentioned or quoted in a 327
neutral tone (57 percent of articles in which it is mentioned or quoted, see Figure 3), more than 69% 328
of the articles that mention or quote contrarians also contextualize them in a negative way. 329
[Insert Figure 2 and 3 here]. 330
The negative evaluation of contrarians co-occurs with quoting them: Three-fourths of the 331
articles that contained a negative evaluation of contrarians also quoted them (see Figure 4). Yet 332
almost three-fourths of the very few articles (N = 11) that positively depicted the contrarians did not 333
include a quotation. This means that journalists do not necessarily quote contrarians to legitimize 334
them or provide them with a public platform; they often do so to debunk contrarians. This strategy 335
may be called dismissive quotation. Journalists who support the contrarians tend to refrain from 336
quoting them. We suggest to label this practice protective omission. To provide an illustrative 337
example of a dismissive quotation, we might cite a Guardian Blog post (from May 2, 2012) that 338
provides a direct quote from a contrarian after explaining that 600 MPs had voted for a climate-339
related bill, against three opponents: “Conservative MP Peter Lilley, one of the lonely trio who voted 340
against the climate change act, told the audience: ‘I am the token denialist, a suitable case for 341
treatment for deviating from the Stalinist line.’” Further down, the article explains: “The sceptics are 342
a fringe within a fringe. Another sceptic, Stuart Wheeler, stood up to say there had been no warming 343
for 15 years (yawn) and that the costs of climate action were too high and then walked out, 344
uninterested in further debate.”1 345
[Insert Figure 4 here]. 346
These broader transnational patterns may cloud important differences among climate 347
journalists that can be explained by national, organizational (media outlet), or individual (climate 348
contrarian attitude) contexts. Identifying content differences that run along contextual differences 349
helps us identify the circumstances under which the IPCC view is challenged and contrarians are 350
quoted. 351
4.3 National bias 352
The analysis reveals that the British media outlets are significantly more contrarian than those from 353
all other countries in the sample (Figures 5 and 6). Probably in the context of the debate about the 354
‘hiatus,’ even the most basic statement (that it is indeed getting warmer) is contested in 16% of all 355
British articles in the sample. Coverage in the leading news outlets selected for our analysis does not 356
simply mirror the degree of public contrarianism as measured in surveys for the respective countries: 357
the US media in our sample are not significantly more contrarian than media outlets from India, 358
Switzerland, and Germany. As expected based on the findings from other studies (Billett, 2010; 359
Painter, 2011), the Indian media stand out due to a total lack of challenge of the four IPCC 360
statements. The question of whether anthropogenic climate change is a serious risk seems to be 361
uncontested in India. In our data, this results in low values on challenges, as well as a comparatively 362
low IPCC index value, as there is also a lack of explicit support for the four IPCC consensus statements 363
as well. 364
[Insert Figure 5 and 6 here]. 365
Of the countries studied, the British and US media most heavily quote contrarian voices (in 366
25% of the British and 17% of the US articles), and these are clearly negatively evaluated. The 367
standard deviation of the IPCC index values is considerably higher for the data from Britain than for 368
the other countries, which indicates a polarized debate with different kinds of coverage by different 369
news outlets and journalists. 370
4.4 Organizational bias 371
These findings about country differences need to be refined by looking at the level of media outlets 372
and even individual journalists: a single columnist for the Daily Telegraph (Christopher Booker) wrote 373
48% of the 77 UK articles that challenged the basic assumptions of anthropogenic climate change. 374
1 URL:
change-sceptic-right-wing (last accessed: 17.11.2016)
Other individuals in our sample consistently doubt aspects of the climate change consensus, such as 375
the Danish economist Bjørn Lomborg and the former German politician Fritz Vahrenholt. They were 376
allowed to raise their doubts in guest contributions to the Wall Street Journal and the German 377
tabloid BILD Zeitung, respectively. Yet, in contrast to Booker, they are not regular columnists of these 378
outlets. Apart from the Daily Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal, and the BILD Zeitung, only the SUN 379
and the Berner Zeitung feature more than 10% of climate-related articles that challenge the climate 380
change consensus. It should also be mentioned that almost all of the popular and regional 381
newspapers have only very scarce coverage of climate change: a total of about a dozen articles 382
published over the course of roughly 18 months. Organizational factors thus not only impact bias but, 383
perhaps most importantly, the degree of attention that is paid to climate change. 384
Almost all of the outlets with a substantial share of contrarianism (e.g., Daily Telegraph, Wall 385
Street Journal) have a right-leaning editorial policy. In order to further substantiate this finding, we 386
explicitly compared left-leaning and right-leaning upmarket newspapers (Figures 7 and 8). The 387
analysis confirms the pattern found above: right-leaning papers challenge climate change 388
significantly more often, but left-leaning papers quote contrarians more often, and clearly evaluate 389
them negatively. 390
[Insert Figure 7 and 8 here]. 391
4.5 Individual bias 392
Finally, the case of Christopher Booker illustrates the influence of individual authors and their 393
subjective interpretations of climate change. Brüggemann and Engesser (2014) have shown that 394
there is a core of what they call prolific writersthat contributes two-thirds of the climate coverage 395
across different kinds of outlets, while the rest of the coverage is produced by a multitude of 396
journalists who all write only occasionally on this topic. Other studies have also shown that expert 397
science writers have a particularly high degree of individual editorial freedom (Dunwoody, 1980). In 398
the case of Booker from the Daily Telegraph, he does not enjoy particular freedom due to his 399
expertise on the science beat, but instead as a well-known columnist who caters to a valuable 400
audience of like-minded right-leaning readers. In order to test whether journalists’ personal 401
preferences translate into individual patterns of writing about climate change, we correlated their
interpretations (as articulated in the survey) with the aggregate bias of their articles. Table 1 shows 403
that this is clearly the case: there are strong and statistically significant correlations between the IPCC 404
index as drawn from the survey for each journalist and the index drawn from their writing. The 405
survey statement “climate skeptics are important voices in the debate” also translates into a greater 406
tendency to positively evaluate contrarian speakers. 407
[Insert Table 1 here]. 408
It is interesting to note that statements about whether contrarians should be excluded or 409
have equal voice do not translate into more or less quoting of contrarians. Journalists who agree with 410
the statement that contrarians should not be given the chance to voice their opinions seem even 411
more inclined to quote them, while journalists who demand equal voice for contrarians do not quote 412
them more often. While neither correlation is statistically significant, they are still highly plausible in 413
light of the journalistic practices identified above: journalists with a negative attitude towards 414
climate contrarians quote them in their articles, but only in order to dismiss them (dismissive 415
quotation), while journalists who think favorably of climate contrarians support their arguments but 416
avoid quoting them (protective omission). 417
5. Discussion 418
These findings produce a nuanced picture of how journalistic norms and biases interact in producing 419
climate coverage. Our findings advance the state of research in four ways. 420
First, the analysis shows that the interpretive community of climate journalists in different 421
countries found in a prior survey of journalists (Brüggemann and Engesser, 2014) clearly also shapes 422
the coverage across different news outlets and national contexts. The climate change consensus is 423
the established master frame in the climate debate as represented in leading media outlets in 424
different countries. ‘Climategate’ and the failure to reach a global climate agreement in Copenhagen 425
have not led to climate coverage that continuously doubts the existence of anthropogenic climate 426
change, or the risks associated with it and the need to reduce emissions. Rather, the failure of 427
Copenhagen combined, probably, with the effects of cuts in the number of science journalists has 428
led to reduced coverage after 2010, as the continuous monitoring of climate coverage shows 429
(Boykoff et al., 2016). Our study has focused on this period of routine, low-profile coverage of 430
climate change, mostly provided by expert climate, science or environment writers. The coverage 431
clearly illustrates the scientific consensus surrounding the basic understanding of climate change. 432
This is also likely to reflect a learning process among climate journalists after (at the time of the data 433
collection in 2011 and 2012) 15 UN climate summits and four rounds of IPCC reports. In contrast to 434
earlier studies (Wilson, 2000), most journalists are aware of the broad consensus about the basics of 435
climate change as represented in our operationalization of the climate change consensus. 436
Second, this study refines our understanding of how contrarians get into the news despite 437
this consensus that is shared by both journalists and scientists. Our findings indicate that the norm of 438
balance can no longer be regarded as the prime explanation of the salience of contrarians in media 439
coverage. We find that contrarians are still, considering their fringe position in scientific discourse, 440
overrepresented in media coverage, particularly in the United States and Britain. Yet, this is not a 441
sign of adherence to the norm of balance. Balanced coverage of a ‘he said/she saidstyle has been 442
replaced by an active contextualization and evaluation of contrarian voices, e.g., by pointing out their 443
lack of expertise in climate science. Quotes of contrarians are paired with a dismissal of their stance 444
on climate change. This explains why recent studies (e.g. Painter and Ashe, 2012) have found equal 445
levels of salience of contrarians mentioned in left- and right-leaning papers. We confirm this finding 446
and expand on its explanation: journalists who are themselves contrarian do not quote contrarians as 447
opportune witnesses(Hagen, 1993) in order to hide their own opinions. Past theorizing would also
assume that journalists legitimize certain actors by quoting them (Gamson and Wolfsfeld, 1993). 449
With regards to contrarians, we instead find dismissive quotes and protective omissions – two 450
variants of the repository of journalistic practices that have been neglected in past theorizing. 451
Comparing our findings to the earlier studies by Boykoff and others leads us to posit a shift in 452
journalistic norms from ‘objective/balanced’ journalism towards interpretive journalism. Evidence of 453
this trend has also been provided for political reporting in different Western countries (Esser and 454
Umbricht, 2014). Brüggemann and Engesser’s (2014) survey also found that 70% of climate 455
journalists said they did not want to ignore contrarian voices but to critically contextualize them. By 456
connecting survey and content analysis, our study shows that these intentions articulated in surveys 457
and interviews are put into practice. 458
The negative contextualization of contrarians, particularly in outlets like the Huffington Post 459
and the Guardian, takes the form of a news narrative about climate change deniers who are part of a 460
professionally organized lobbying effort (denial machine(Dunlap and MacCright, 2010)) that is 461
ultimately directed against any restrictive regulations or laws to fight climate change. This narrative 462
can be seen as a product of interpretive journalism, but it can also be explained by news value 463
theory: the story provides conflict and negativity, and thereby attracts attention. Media logics such 464
as the rise of interpretive journalism and the continuing adherence to news values thus converge to 465
explain the enduring salience of contrarians in coverage by journalists who are fully aware of the 466
basic scientific agreement concerning anthropogenic climate change. 467
Third, niches of denial persist. By comparing the national, organizational, and individual 468
levels, we can show in which contexts the continuous denial of anthropogenic climate change is 469
institutionalized. It is not only a certain national-political context that matters; otherwise, we would 470
have found more contrarianism in the leading US print and online news outlets. Nor is it only the 471
editorial line of right-leaning news outlets; otherwise there would be more denial in right-leaning 472
papers like the German FAZ. It is also not only the contrarian attitude of a small number of 473
journalists. Our study finds evidence of the explanatory power of all three levels, but they only 474
become fully effective when combined in a certain way to provide the necessary and sufficient 475
conditions for publishing denial: contrarian authors, in a right-leaning medium, in a country with elite 476
voices, and lobbyists who back the denial of climate change. This constellation of conditions is an 477
important explanation of the unique volume of contrarianism published in the British Daily Telegraph 478
by a single columnist. We show that a single journalist can make a difference, if he or she works in a 479
certain editorial and national context providing the discursive opportunity for denial. This case also 480
illustrates how ideological bias at different levels of influence shapes the news: a writer with 481
personal doubts about climate change, in a newsroom with a certain ideological leaning, and a wider 482
discourse culture in which denial of climate change is part of the repertoire. It is also interesting that 483
the news outlets from India in the sample contained no challenges to the IPCC view; the debate there 484
seems to focus on completely different issues, which deserves further analysis. 485
Finally, there is a specific pattern of polarized debate in the Anglo-Saxon countries that is, in 486
our sample, most clearly shown in the British media outlets analyzed. One British media outlet (the 487
Daily Telegraph, led by a single columnist) seems to be the stronghold of climate denial. However, 488
another British media outlet, the Guardian, features frequent dismissive quoting of contrarians. The 489
BBC does not challenge the IPCC view, and rarely quotes contrarian voices. Thus the private media in 490
Britain engage in an ever more polarized debate, while the public news outlet tries to defend its
neutrality by abstaining from this part of the debate. 492
6. Conclusion 493
Our study has contributed to both climate communication and journalism studies as the first to 494
combine a survey of climate journalists from different media and national backgrounds with an 495
analysis of their articles. Its descriptive section has shown that a transnational interpretive 496
community among climate journalists along the lines of climate change consensus translates into 497
media coverage, but that journalists still give substantial media attention to contrarians. We explain 498
this paradox using a model of interacting media logics and biases at the individual author, news 499
outlet, and country levels. We have found that journalistic practices as part of media logic are 500
evolving from objective/balanced towards more interpretive journalism. The power of news values 501
such as conflict to shape climate coverage remains the same. 502
The implications of the resulting patterns of media coverage with regards to contributing to a 503
democratic public sphereand thus a constructive debate on climate change – are unclear. 504
Democratic theory calls for a journalistic watchdog, and complex issues like climate change call for 505
more contextualization than is provided in the traditional model of objective, balanced journalism. 506
Interpretive journalism may thus be welcomed from this normative perspective, because it provides 507
a better base for creating public understanding of complex issues like climate change and climate 508
politics. It can be viewed as part of the professional duty of journalists to provide “weight-of-509
evidence reporting” (Dunwoody, 2005) and therefore contextualize contrarian voices. The good news 510
arising from this study is that contextualized reporting is moving closer to what is widely understood 511
as a consensus around the basics of climate change: journalism can be blamed less for confusing the 512
public. 513
Yet, the fixation on the clash between contrarians and climate science may crowd out more 514
relevant debates related to climate change policy-making and climate science. This narrative may 515
entertain partisan audiences on both sides of the political spectrum, but it also polarizes the debate. 516
A more constructive turn would be to ignore the contrarians and look for new narratives: for 517
example, journalists could hold politicians accountable to their public pledges given at the recent 518
climate summit (COP-21) in Paris by investigating the national implementation of promises to reduce 519
CO2 emissions. It is a challenge for journalists to search for new ways to frame climate change, and a 520
challenge for researchers to detect these new emerging narratives in order to provide a more 521
nuanced analysis of climate debates. Both journalists and media scholars need to look for new 522
dimensions in the debate. One step in this direction is the framework offered by Corry and 523
Jorgensen, who map the climate policy debate by taking into account the perception of the climate 524
problem as more or less “wicked” and the preferred solutions that can rely on a more individualist or 525
holistic framework (Corry and Jørgensen, 2015). 526
Further implications for future research stem from both the findings and the limits of our 527
study. Content analyses need to go beyond counting who gets a voice to focus on how (e.g., 528
contrarian) voices are contextualized. Future content analysis also needs to go beyond coding 529
positive/negative evaluations as we do: this may even be done through automated content analysis. 530
Yet, the results need to be complemented by deeper qualitative analyses that identify how exactly 531
different voices are contextualized. Our findings also emphasize the importance of editorial policies, 532
and thus of studying more than one news outlet per country and making a more conscious choice of 533
which media outlets to study. Even though our study has gone beyond focusing on upmarket 534
newspapers, it has still neglected outlets like Fox News (Feldman et al., 2011) or US talk radio 535
stations, which are likely to host more denialism than those included here. This is why the US media, 536
in our sample, seems less contrarian than British media. Our study may inspire future research that 537
combines content analyses with interviews of the authors of the articles. Yet, the current study also
reveals a limitation of this approach: journalistswillingness to participate in a survey. Finally, 539
analytically, our results remind us that individual, organizational, and national influences on media 540
content should not be regarded as mutually exclusive. Also, biases and professional logics are not 541
alternative explanations for journalistic practices. These different factors interact and complement 542
each other to explain the practices observed in climate journalism. 543
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Figure 1: Agreement with the IPCC View across Countries and News Outlets 690
Note: N = 936 articles (CH, D, UK, US, IN; 1 January 201131 December 2012) 692
45 46
639 51 53
Not mentioned
Figure 2: Salience of the IPCC and Contrarians in Media Coverage 695
Note: N = 936 articles (CH, D, UK, US, IN; 1 January 2011 31 December 2012) 697
11 7
84 82
IPCC Contrarians
Not mentioned
Figure 3: Evaluation of the IPCC and Contrarians in Media Coverage 700
Note: 149 articles mention/quote the IPCC; 173 articles mention/quote contrarians 702
Figure 4: Quotation and Evaluation of Contrarians in Media Coverage 708
IPCC (N = 149) Contrarians (N = 173)
Note: “None/Balanced” includes only four cases of balanced reporting. There is a significant negative 710
relation between quotation and evaluation: χ2 (2, N = 935) = 563.74, p < 0.000 711
(N = 120)
(N = 804)
(N = 11)
(N = 936)
Not quoted
Figure 5: IPCC view and Evaluation of Contrarians by Country 713
Note: IPCC view index: average of the affirmations (1), challenges (-1) and neutral (0) journalistic 715
stances towards the four statements that comprise the climate change frame; Contrarians evaluated: 716
average of the positive (1), negative (-1), or neutral (0) stances towards contrarians. 717
IPCC view index Contrarians evaluated
UK (N = 201)
US (N = 231)
DE (N = 201)
CH (N = 169)
IN (N = 134)
Total (N = 936)
Figure 6: Challenges to IPCC view and Quotations of Contrarians by Country
16 5
Warming Anthropogenity Risks Emission reduction
IPCC view challenged Contrarians quoted
UK (N =201)
US (N = 231)
DE (N = 201)
CH (N = 169)
IN (N = 134)
Total (N = 936)
Figure 7: IPCC view and Evaluation of Contrarians by Political Slant of Upmarket Newspapers
Note: Left-leaning: Tages-Anzeiger, SZ, Hindu, Guardian, NYT; right-leaning: NZZ, FAZ, Hindustan Times, Daily Telegraph, WSJ
.42 .03
IPCC view index Contrarians evaluated
Left-leaning upmarket (N = 306)
Right-leaning upmarket (N = 194)
Total upmarket (N = 500)
Figure 8: Challenges to IPCC view and Quotations of Contrarians by Political Slant of Upmarket Newspapers
Note: Left-leaning: Tages-Anzeiger, SZ, Hindu, Guardian, NYT; right-leaning: NZZ, FAZ, Hindustan Times, Daily Telegraph, WSJ
010 0
6 6
Warming Anthropogenity Risks Emission
IPCC view challenged Contrarians
Left-leaning upmarket (N = 306)
Right-leaning upmarket (N = 194)
Total upmarket (N = 500)
Table 1: Correlation between Journalists’ Attitudes and the Content of their Articles
Survey responses of journalists
Content analysis of their articles
Pearson’s r
IPCC view index
Agreement with / challenge of four
(1) warming, (2) anthropogenity, (3)
risks, (4) emission reduction
Agreement with / challenge of four
(1) warming, (2) anthropogenity, (3)
risks, (4) emission reduction
Evaluation of contrarians
Agreement with statement (“climate
skeptics are important voices in the
Evaluation of contrarians
Journalistic treatment of contrarians: “Contrarians should…
not be given much of chance to
make their points”
Quotation of contrarians
Evaluation of contrarians
…be given the chance… as
extensively as others
Quotation of contrarians
Evaluation of contrarians
N = 62 journalists (correlated with the aggregated averages of the content patterns in their 747
articles related to climate change)
Online Appendix (Brüggemann, M. / Engesser, S.: Beyond False Balance: How Interpretive Journalism Shapes Media Coverage of Climate Change)
Table A1: Sampling by Countries and News Outlets
Market segment
Upmarket newspaper
(right leaning)
(right leaning)
Hindustan Times
Daily Telegraph
(right leaning)
(right leaning)
(left leaning)
(left leaning)
Indian Express
(left leaning)
(left leaning)
Mass-/midmarket newspaper
(right leaning)
(left leaning)
The Sun
(right leaning)
USA Today
Regional newspaper Berner Zeitung
Berliner Zeitung
(left leaning)
(left leaning)
Evening News
(left leaning)
LA Times
(left leaning)
Major online news outlets
Spiegel Online
(left leaning)
Times of India
BBC News
Huffington Post
(left leaning)
N = 936 169 201 134 201 231
Note: With this case selection, we aimed to represent each country’s journalistic print and online media landscape and to compare functionally equivalent
news outlets (Wirth, Kolb 2004) across countries. We selected outlets that can be considered leaders in terms of prestige and audience reach in each market
segment. The regional newspapers selected are based in another metropolitan area than the upmarket papers selected. While they have a clear regional base,
they are not necessarily limited in geographic scope to this area. In the case of India, we were restricted to English-language news outlets. Outlets like the
Guardian and the New York Times may also be regarded as global players, yet they are also influenced by the journalism culture of their country and reflect
the specifics of the national debate about climate change. The Times of India is an upmarket newspaper but is also widely regarded as the country’s leading
online news outlet. For audience reach, see Olmstead et al. (2011) and WAN (2010).
We included one right-leaning and one left-leaning upmarket newspaper in every country. In India, only the Hindustan Times could be clearly classified as
left leaning. We sampled the paper as regional because it comes from Southern Chennai. For the comparative analysis of right- and left-leaning outlets, we
used the upmarket newspapers in each country. For India we included the Hindu and the Hindustan Times. For the BBC and we did not assign
political leanings in the table above as the BBC is legally bound to be impartial and balanced, and heavily relies on relatively impartial news agency
material. For the political leanings of the other outlets, see Gentzkow and Shapiro (2010), Painter (2013), and Schmidt and Schäfer (2015). Political leanings
were furthermore assigned after consultation with country experts for the respective countries.
Table A2: Reliability Test Results
S-Lotus (adjusted by chance)
Pearson’s r
IPCC view
Emission reduction
IPCC view indexa
Actor mentioningb
Actor evaluationc
Note: aAverage index of the four respective IPCC view items; bScale: 0 = "not mentioned," 1 =
"mentioned," 2 = "quoted/several mentions," 3 = "quoted at length"; cScale: -1 = "negative,"
0 = "not mentioned"/"balanced," to 1 = "positive"
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... Our results also add support to Brüggemann and Engesser's (2017) findings that the norm of balance is being replaced by 'interpretative reporting': journalists contextualise and explain the positions of the actors they cover. In our data, political statements are often contrasted with the scientific consensus position. ...
... These intercultural differences at the individual and political level are reflected in mediated reporting about climate science and politics. News recipients in the US are more frequently exposed to political information questioning climate science than in many other high-emitting countries (Painter & Ashe, 2012;Tschötschel et al., 2020), even though these portrayals are often linked to journalistic evaluation (Brüggemann & Engesser, 2017). Research has shown that partisan selective exposure (Stroud, 2010) to 'conservative' news sources is one of the key contributing factors to politicisation and polarisation around climate policy (Feldman, Myers, Hmielowski, & Leiserowitz, 2014;Gustafson et al., 2019;Hmielowski, Hutchens, & Beam, 2020). ...
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How we, as societies, communicate about climate change shapes how we understand and possibly overcome this century-defining challenge — or fail to do so. In this dissertation, I argue that public discourse about climate change can face a social tipping point that is marked by a fundamental shift in public opinion, political parties’ positions, and media reporting. My empirical research, comparing Germany and the United States supports the view that the former has surpassed this crucial threshold: public controversy is predominantly focused on finding solutions, and the media overwhelmingly emphasise consensus around the need to reduce emissions by mid-century. In contrast, the US suffers from a disconnect between public opinion and how media report on the issue, likely aggravating public controversy and perceived differences between supporters of the two major parties. As my findings indicate, once the conversation has ‘tipped over’, the communication strategies and practices that helped bring about this development are likely no longer effective. We direly need a faster and more just transition to an economy and society free from green-house gas emissions. To help materialise it, communication practitioners can learn from the cases presented to keep moving the conversation forward. By depoliticising geophysical and social scientific insights about climate change and its impact on humans, they can build the foundation for an informed discussion about different solutions to underpin the controversial political debates needed to make future-defining decisions.
... Furthermore, five thematic framesets well-known in literature were adapted as a guide. The thematic frameset consists of conflict, human interest, responsibility, morality and economic consequences, as illustrated by (Trumbo 1996, Takahashi 2011, O'Neill et al. 2015, Brüggemann & Engesser 2017, Schäfer & O'Neill 2017. Since the preceding studies failed to demonstrate assessment of articles with different structures, the research adopted a process from (Stoddart et al. 2016 p. 222) with editions tailored to this study. ...
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Climate change is among the global issues that have permeated the media agenda, yet studies on climate crises have mostly focused on Western media. Less in-depth analysis has been conducted in developing countries that are extremely subject to climate change and where awareness and adaptation will be more pressing than reducing emissions. This study presents a comparative content analysis of newspaper coverage of climate change in southern Africa from October 2018 to April 2019; a critical period when significant events combined to raise the need to tackle global climate breakdown. The analysis included 108 newspaper articles published in English by news media in Namibia and South Africa that have a significant influence on policymakers and present global and local coverage of climate change. The assessment included news articles from The Namibian, Windhoek Observer, Cape Argus, and Sunday Times. Data were collected and analysed using content discourse analysis. The study found that articles are frequently sourced from foreign news agencies. Significant international and local events like Cyclone Idai and the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (COP24 – Katowice) strongly influenced the reporting of climate change in southern Africa, and dominant climate change thematic frames and linguistic repertoires were used to discuss the climate crises. The discussions of global warming were framed around public opinion (civil/protest) while small actions and alarmists were mostly used as linguistic repertoires in reporting climate change. The causes and effects of climate change are discussed with alarm, while mitigations and measures are reported as small actions. Reporters frequently used adjectives such as no tomorrow, extinction, and heatwaves to warn the public about the severity of climate change. The study strongly suggests a need for reporters to widen local report sourcing and to strike a balance in framing climate change news while not undermining the seriousness of global warming. It is important to balance warning journalists about alarmist reporting and not underestimating the severity of climate change. Journalists and editors trained in environmental journalism may better report on climate change.
... This conceptual paper attempts to determine the links between the media logic and the climate change reporting among the selected online media in Malaysia, namely, when it comes to media production by journalists up to the stage of releasing the news to the public. With the prior framework by Enli and Simonsen (2018) on their study of social media logic and professional norms together with the outline by Brüggemann and Engesser (2017), this study has proposed a research model for the context of online Malaysian media, as shown in Figure 1: The propositions for this study are as follows: P1: ...
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The initial focus of media logic has populated the spectrum of political communication for almost two decades. However, with the growing interest in climate change reporting in Malaysia, media logic can be used to connect both the ideas of online media content creation and their aftereffects. Thus, this conceptual paper aims to examine the interrelationship between online climate change content production and the impact that is produced by it. This paper addresses the issues, concepts and objectives covering the forthcoming study through the various interdisciplinary works of literature. The significance of this paper is that it can be a supplementary reference for academics for their future research. Besides, the results of this future research may contribute insights into the media outlets in Malaysia concerning varying and strengthening climate change reporting. It will also be relevant to media providers and policymakers, who produce and draft the frameworks and schemes, to deliver climate change awareness and educate the public.
... Further, in contrast to the 97% of scientists who largely agree on anthropogenic climate change, many news outlets tend to over select "contrarians" (i.e., individuals portraying themselves as scientific experts who do not endorse mainstream scientific views on climate science; Petersen et al., 2019). This "false balance" (i.e., portraying a false impression of disagreement among climate scientists) is especially common in the United Kingdom and the United States (Brüggemann & Engesser, 2017;Merkley & Stecula, 2018). ...
... Paul Matthews [21] showed that around 60 of 154 climate skeptics based their attitude on invoking that climate science is insufficiently rigorous. Public confusion is reflected by the existence of a diversity of opinions and behaviors regarding the urgency to approach climate change as a humanity problem [22,23]. ...
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The way people perceive climate change scientific evidence becomes relevant in motivating or demotivating their climate actions. Climate change is one of the most publicized topics globally, and media has become an important “validator” of science. Therefore, science has become more exposed to criticism. Even when most scientists, decision makers, and laypeople agree on the robust evidence of climate science, there is still room for disagreement. The main aim of this paper is to reveal how climate change knowledge generated by science is perceived by the laypeople and to observe a possible gap between them. The study answered two questions “What are the main contrasting climate change topics in the scientific literature?” and “What are Romanian and Belgian participants’ perceptions of these topics?”. A qualitative approach was chosen for data analysis, using Quirkos software. The present cross-country study showed commonalities and differences of views between the two groups of participants regarding six climate change topics. Divergent perceptions among Belgians and Romanians came out, for example, within the theme “The heroes, villains, and victims of climate change.” Thus, whereas Belgians considered all people, including themselves, responsible for climate change, Romanians blamed mostly others, such as big companies, governments, and consumers. Additionally, both groups stated that climate change existed, but contrary to Belgians, Romanians voiced that climate change was often used as an exaggerated and politicized topic. The analysis revealed that perceptions about climate change, its causes, and its impacts are social constructs with a high degree of variability between and within the two national groups. The study argued that the cleavages between scientific literature and people’s views were blind spots on which a participatory approach was needed to better cope with climate change challenges.
Climate activists and environmental communicators stress that addressing the climate crisis requires both global and local advocacy for transformational change-making. While journalists in small, rural communities are known to actively advocate on issues for the common good, there has been little investigation of local media advocacy on climate change in rural Australia: a region at the forefront of global heating. This paper analyses the accounts of local journalists of their media coverage of the School Strikes 4 Climate in rural and regional Australia, as an empirical entry point for a conceptual discussion of local media advocacy in reporting climate change. We find that normative ideas about journalism coupled with polarised community views on climate change hindered these journalists from taking an advocacy stance. We explore and critique the tacit ‘quiet advocacy’ practices used by these journalists reporting on climate in rural and regional Australia.
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The belief gap hypothesis focuses on why individuals differ in beliefs about the causes and consequences of issues despite expert consensus. Offering ideological rationalization and media use as an explanation for diverting beliefs, it, so far, has focused on ideological priors that describe traditional socio-economic cleavages—even if scientific and environmental issues go beyond monetary questions. In this study, we aim to counter this shortcoming by introducing a socio-cultural dimension of ideology to research on the belief gap hypothesis. Comparing two issues of man-made threats—climate change and antimicrobial resistance—and emphasizing more strongly the role of media use for belief gaps, we find that a socio-cultural dimension of ideology serves as a better predictor for diverting beliefs about climate change but not for antimicrobial resistance. In contrast to left-leaning media, using right-leaning media outlets widens climate change belief gaps.
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Even as the consensus over the reality and significance of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) becomes stronger within the scientific community, this global environmental problem is increasingly contested in the political arena and wider society. The spread of debate and contention over ACC from the scientific to socio-political realms has been detrimental to climate science. This article provides an overview of organized climate change denial. Focusing primarily on the US, where denial first took root and remains most active, this article begins by describing the growth of conservative-based opposition to environmentalism and environmental science in general. It then explains why climate change became the central focus of this opposition, which quickly evolved into a coordinated and well-funded machine or 'industry'. It also examines denialists' rationale for attacking the scientific underpinnings of climate change policy and the crucial strategy of 'manufacturing uncertainty' they employ.
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Skepticism toward climate change has a long tradition in the United States. We focus on mass media as the conveyors of the image of climate change and ask: Is climate change skepticism still a characteristic of US print media coverage? If so, to what degree and in what form? And which factors might pave the way for skeptics entering mass media debates? We conducted a quantitative content analysis of US print media during one year (1 June 2012 to 31 May 2013). Our results show that the debate has changed: fundamental forms of climate change skepticism (such as denial of anthropogenic causes) have been abandoned in the coverage, being replaced by more subtle forms (such as the goal to avoid binding regulations). We find no evidence for the norm of journalistic balance, nor do our data support the idea that it is the conservative press that boosts skepticism.