The news media play a key role in framing the media coverage of oil spills. It is imperative that scientists, industry and policymakers are fully tuned into the ways in which current news organisations operate. Over recent years, a growing environmental promotion industry has emerged, alongside an increasing emphasis on environmental advocacy within the commercial sector. A number of information crises (notably, the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989) have forced sections of industry to take a more proactive approach to environmental communications as potent media imagery has directly contradicted assurances that environmental protection is not compromised by their activities. Particular issues or events that capture attention tend to be highly visually appealing and resonate with deeply held beliefs and values that operate at a symbolic level.

This paper examines the preliminary findings of an international online survey of environmental reporting distributed to key environmental journalist news groups and generalist journalist news groups during June and July 2002. In particular, it focuses upon the following: journalists’ views about what makes a newsworthy story; their degree of scientific training; the constraints under which they work; their main sources of information; their relationships with news sources; and the impact of editorial policy. Interviews with environment correspondents reveal that relatively few possess scientific training and they tend to rely heavily upon official sources of information. The news agendas of broadcasters closely mirror that of print journalists and there is remarkable consensus concerning ‘news values’ – the taken for granted notions about what constitutes a ‘good’ news story. Having presented the main findings of the survey, the paper concludes by arguing that what is needed is greater communication between scientists, industry and journalists leading to an increased mutual recognition of the specific constraints under which they operate.

This content is only available as a PDF.