A New Journalism For A New Climate: Is Solutions Journalism The Solution?

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2023

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Abstract

Climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Yet news warning about its risks has not typically included information about how to address it, possibly depressing support for policy action. Some scholars and practitioners suggest that an emerging reporting practice, solutions journalism, may offer an antidote. By showcasing credible, collective responses to social problems, such as climate change, solutions journalism may make progress seem possible, thereby increasing support for pro-social policies. However, little is known about climate solutions journalism, particularly its effect on audience climate action policy support. Accordingly, through content analysis and an experiment this dissertation seeks to answer two overarching and interconnected questions: 1) What is the nature of solutions journalism about climate change? and 2) How does solutions journalism about responses to climate change, compared with problem-oriented journalism, impact news audiences? In Study 1, I undertook an inductive quantitative content analysis guided by Entman’s (1993) four functions of framing. Cluster analysis of 244 text-based climate solutions news stories published in U.S.-based outlets resulted in three previously undescribed news frames. The most prevalent frame, the future is now, focused on adapting to a changing climate which causes environmental problems. The next most prevalent frame, the undeterred stewards, described a variety of climate impacts and causes, frequently mentioned climate change’s victims, and focused nearly equally on mitigation and adaptation responses. Stories emblematic of this frame featured responses led by people typically drawing on place-based identity and working cooperatively beyond partisanship. The least frequent frame, moral mitigation, focused on mitigation and who was responsible for both causing and addressing climate change. Study 2 examined the effects of climate solutions journalism on preference for public-sphere policy support of climate action and climate misinformation susceptibility. I conducted a 3 (government solution vs. business solution vs. problems) x 2 (food waste vs. wildfire) + 1 (control) between-subjects online experiment among U.S adults (N = 368). Results showed that threat appraisals mediated the effect of solution (vs. problem) on preference for policy support, with topic-level analysis revealing the effect present for stories about climate-related wildfire, but not food waste. Additionally, political ideology moderated the effect of policy support preference in a manner consistent with solutions aversion, the idea that ideologically (in)congruent solutions bias information processing of solutions to social problems. This experiment also added to a growing body of research that solutions journalism increases audience positive affect, decreases negative affect, and increases media trust. Surprisingly, there were no evidence that several efficacy constructs mediated effects of story orientation on policy support. However, solutions journalism did decrease climate misinformation susceptibility through negative affect, but raised it through positive affect. This dissertation provides several theoretical and practical implications. First, this study shows that climate solutions journalism is framed differently than traditional, climate journalism. In focusing mostly on climate change’s negative environmental impacts, adaptation over mitigation, with little mention of causes, the most common climate solutions frame may not convey that mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is critical. Furthermore, the less frequently employed frames may better engage conservative audiences. This dissertation is the first to demonstrate that solutions journalism can increase threat appraisal, despite increasing positive affect and decreasing negative affect, and do so without depressing support for policy action. In doing so, this dissertation answers calls for solutions research guided by theory although findings suggest additional theory development is needed. In sum, this dissertation offers support to the idea that climate solutions journalism is a promising journalistic approach for the reality of the Anthropocene age.

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