Framing Climate Change in Local News Before and After Hurricane Sandy

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Environmental Sciences
Mass Communication
Physical Sciences and Mathematics
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Werner, Brian A

Hurricane Sandy came ashore in Brigantine, NJ on October 29, 2012. This study examines the frequency and framing of newspaper coverage of climate change during the year before and the year after Hurricane Sandy. It focuses only on high-circulation newspapers that serve populations in the areas in New York and New Jersey that were hardest hit by the storm: The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), The Press of Atlantic City (Atlantic City, NJ), and Newsday (Long Island, NY). A total of 408 articles about climate change were coded and analyzed. In general, the frequency of coverage of climate change increased during the year following the storm. Four frames emerged in coverage before and after the storm: coverage in which “deniers” of climate change were the central focus, stories that acknowledged the reality of climate change and/or discussed actions or proposals to mitigate its effects (“it’s real”), coverage that “balanced” denial with acknowledgment and/or mitigation of climate change, and, coverage that focused (beyond mitigation) on the need for “adaptation” to climate change. This study found that during the year prior to the storm, coverage of climate change included the first three frames, with almost no coverage of “adaptation”. During the year following the storm, coverage using solely a “deniers” frame disappeared, and framing shifted toward coverage that acknowledged rising sea levels, more intense storms or extreme weather and other effects of climate change, and discussed mitigation. In addition, coverage that framed climate change beyond acknowledgment and mitigation of its effects – in terms of the need for “adaptation” – rose sharply.

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