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Constructing the News: The Role of Local Newspapers in Environmental Risk Communication

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Effective risk communication is central to good environmental risk management. While studies have shown that newspapers are the primary source of information to the public regarding environmental issues, little is known about how environmental news is used as a risk-communication tool. This article explores the role of local information systems in risk communication, using newspaper content analysis as well as in-depth interviews with journalists and community residents to develop a case study of an environmental assessment process for a nonhazardous industrial-waste landfill. Results indicate that risk messages were chosen and shaped by journalists on the basis of their own exigencies. In addition, while newspapers were a major source of risk information, their impact was mitigated by resident distrust and access to other information sources, most notably their own personal information networks. These results have implications for environmental policy, as decision makers often use—either passively or actively—print media as a risk-communication tool.

Keywords: environmental assessment; newspapers; risk communication; risk perception

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2003

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