Framing Climate Change

Climate Change is one of the major issues of our time and also a challenge for journalism. Therefore Michael Brüggemann and his former colleague Sven Engesser at the University of Zurich completed a multi-annual international research project aimed at exploring the role of journalists in framing climate change. Within this project, we have conducted a cross-national survey of journalists who write about climate change for leading media organizations. The study combines the interviews with a content analysis, covering climate journalism in the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and India.

Climate change poses a challenge to policy making but also to journalism, since it is an issue cutting across traditional news beats. It also touches upon local, national and international news, and requires journalists to deal with scientific risk assessment rather than just delivering facts about events.

Our research project ‘Framing Climate Change’ explores how journalists turn the issue of climate change into news stories. The first step was to answer some very basic questions: Who are the journalists shaping climate debates in leading media organizations? What kind of stories do they wish to tell? The second step was to analyze different articles on climate change and investigate what kinds of stories actually dominate the news on this topic in different countries and media outlets. In a third step, we used the information gathered in the interviews to understand the differences in climate reporting. Thus, we strived to enhance our understanding of the dynamics in the debates on climate change in different countries.

The project advanced in four steps:

2011: Conceptual work: Journalistic framing and review of past research on framing climate change

2012: Journalist survey in five countries

2013: Content analysis in leading news outlets (print and offline) in each country

2014: Connecting survey and content analysis data / project publications

The project was funded by a post-doc credit granted to Michael Brüggemann by the University of Zurich. The research was conducted at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research in Zurich by Michael Brüggemann (project leader, now professor at the University of Hamburg) in cooperation with Sven Engesser. Framing Climate Change was supported by a team of research assistants (Laura Schacht, Sandra Haberthür, Mathias Blatter, Fabian Schmid, Anna Lehmann; Laia Castro) and students who pursued their master degree (Diego Bühler/Hannah Freese 2012) in the context of the project.