News Media & Public Denial About Global Warming

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Returning to the subject of my last blog, I imagine there are a number of reasons why news media enable public denial about global warming, but I suspect that advertising plays a major role.

The news media depend on advertising for most (or all) of their revenue. As a result, they give advertisers’ concerns a lot of weight. And studies of the economics of advertising show that businesses want the stories that frame their ads to be light, uncontroversial, and unchallenging.[1]

So what’s an editor to do when a heavy, controversial, and challenging story about global warming is blatantly newsworthy? Run it, of course, but keep it as separate and detached from other content as possible. Connect it to nothing that could impact sales of advertised products. If there’s an apparent connection, ignore it. If the story is about some innovative technology, keep it upbeat. Say nothing about how global warming might affect the future use of that technology or how the technology might affect the environment. Making such connections would be bad for business.

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[1] Brown, Keith S., and Roberto J. Cavazos. 2003. “Empirical Aspects of Advertiser Preferences and Program Content of Network Television.” Federal Communications Commission. Media Bureau Staff Research Paper (December). http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-241968A1.pdf (accessed July 8, 2014).

 

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