Some New England newspapers, TV stations seen as lagging in coverage of environmental issues


While environmental issues are important to many New Englanders, only about half of the region's daily newspapers and about one out of 10 TV stations have a reporter who covers environmental issues on a regular basis, according to a new study co-authored by a Fairfield University professor.

Even the reporters who do cover environmental issues only spend 30 percent of their time, on average, covering such issues, according to Dr. James Simon, who directs the journalism program at Fairfield University.

The study, "The Environment Reporters of New England," was published in the current issue of the journal "Science Communication." It was based on a census of every daily newspaper and TV station in the six-state region. The study was conducted by Dr. David B. Sachsman of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Dr. Simon, a former environmental reporter with the Associated Press; and Dr. JoAnn Myer Valenti of Brigham Young University. They collected information from every daily newspaper and TV station in the region in 2000. The study found:

  • 42 of the 82 daily newspapers in New England had a reporter working full-time on environmental stories or covering environmental stories on a regular basis.
  • Newspaper size was a strong predictor of whether a newspaper had an environment reporter. Of the 27 newspapers with circulations of more than 30,000, 23 of the 27 papers said they had a reporter covering the environment on a regular basis.
  • Only four of 33 TV stations with a news operation had a reporter covering environment issues on a regular basis.
  • Less than a third of these environment reporters had the word "environment" in their titles. Most were general assignment reporters who covered environmental issues whenever issues arose.
  • These environment reporters were older, better educated and more experienced than journalists in general.

"While environment reporters differed from other journalists in many ways, they complained about the same problems - lack of time, not enough room in the newspaper or TV broadcast - as being barriers to doing a good job," said Dr. Simon.

The environment reporters also struggled with balancing their interest in the environment and their training to be objective journalists. While more than 98 percent of these reporters agreed they needed to be as objective as other journalists, 40.8 percent said reporters sometimes should be advocates for the environment, and 30.5 percent said they should work with community leaders to solve environmental problems.

Dr. Simon and his colleagues are now interviewing environment reporters in the Mountain West and the South to see if the trends they discovered in New England also hold true for those regions.

Contact: Dr. James Simon, (203) 254-4000 x2792

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 27, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 91