Ecological crises such as climate change challenge ecosystems and societies. They also concern us as scholars of media and communication. We should not stand by and watch ecological disaster from the sidelines. This article calls for more transformative communication and media scholarship. This implies research, teaching, and public engagement about how to transform societies toward just socioecological transformations through preserving ecosystems and catering for the needs of current and future generations across the globe. We show how much is already being done, as well as how much more we could do as a discipline to not only become carbon neutral but leave a positive imprint on the way societies respond to ecological challenges.
Brüggemann, M. / Carvalho, A. / Brevini, B. / Downey, J. (2023): Still Watching From the Sidelines? The Case for Transformative Environmental Communication Scholarship. International Journal of Communication; Vol 17. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/20507
“Polarization” is a common diagnosis of the state of contemporary societies. Yet, few studies theorize or systematically analyze how polarization evolves in media content. To guide future empirical studies, we introduce a public sphere perspective on polarization. Discursive Polarization, defined as divergence emerging in public communication, may disrupt the public sphere if left untamed. Its analysis should combine the study of ideological polarization (increasing disagreement about issues) and affective polarization (growing disaffection between groups) as evolving in communication. Both processes may be measured in media content. We propose a framework combining the study of journalism and digital communication networks, investigating (1) content and (2) networked interactions regarding both political issues and social identity formation. The exploration of how the public sphere is disrupted in the process of Discursive Polarization may help us to understand the wider social phenomenon of polarization: before societies break apart, debates break apart.
Brüggemann, M. / Meyer, H. (2023): When debates break apart: discursive polarization as a multi-dimensional divergence emerging in and through communication, Communication Theory, 33(2-3), 132–142. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ct/qtad012.
Among the reasons why climate change is not a major cause for concern for some members of the public is its psychological distance. Since journalistic media are important sources of information about climate change, this article analyzed how distant climate futures are portrayed in journalistic media across four countries (Germany, India, South Africa, and the United States; n=1,010). Findings show that there are only few differences across countries; representations of distance rather varied with the type of climate future scenario portrayed. The most frequent scenarios in journalistic reporting were distant — especially regarding the temporal, spatial, and social dimensions.
Guenther, L., & Brüggemann, M. (2023): Not here, not now, not me: How distant are climate futures represented in journalistic reporting across four countries? Journal of Science Communication, 22(05). https://doi.org/10.22323/2.22050201.
Future scenarios of a changing climate are not only an integral part of climate research, but they are also part of media coverage on climate change. Such reporting affects how people imagine the future to be, as well as their current and intended behaviors. Hence, this article made use of a quantitative, manual content analysis with qualitative and automated approaches for sample construction, to analyze the framing of climate futures in journalistic media across four countries (Germany, India, South Africa, and the United States; n = 1 010). Four frames were identified: “Solutions to climatic and social consequences”, “Distant threats to humanity”, “Economic opportunities”, and “Distant threats to ecosystems” – these frames describe different climate futures, with only a few differences between Global North and Global South countries. Implications for climate change communication will be discussed.
Guenther, L. / Meyer, H. / Kleinen-von Königslöw, K. / Brüggemann, M. (2023). A Distant Threat? The Framing of Climate Futures Across Four Countries. Environmental Communication, 17(7), 775–793. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2023.2253500.
The threats posed to society by climate change often fail to become priorities for voters and policymakers. Nevertheless, it has been shown that merely paying online attention to climate change can increase the perceived severity of the associated risks and thus encourage climate action. Therefore, we focus on public discourse on Twitter to explore the interplay of “triggers” and discursive features that stimulate attention to climate change. We collected data from 2017 to 2021, identified each year’s top five “peak” events of climate attention, and applied manual content (N = 2,500) and automated network analyses (N = ~17,000,000). The results show that while specific events and actors may not trigger and maintain attention permanently, there are discursive features (types of domains, discourses, users, and networks) that continuously shape attention to climate change. Debates are highly politicized and often call for action, criticize administrations, stress negative future scenarios, and controversially debate over the reality of climate change. Attention thereby is amplified within hybrid discourses which merge different triggers, being dominated by political, cultural, and journalistic media accounts: Political events trigger posts that stress the reality of climate change, whereas tweets on protests and cultural events are amplified if they call for action. However, antagonism and backlashes to such posts are essential features of the peaks investigated. Accordingly, attention is often connected to controversial debates regarding focusing events, polarizing figures (such as Greta Thunberg or Donald Trump), and the formation of counter-public networks. Which content is amplified highly depends on the subnetworks that users are situated in.
Meyer, H. / Peach, A. K. / Guenther, L. / Kedar, H. E. / Brüggemann, M. (2023). Between Calls for Action and Narratives of Denial: Climate Change Attention Structures on Twitter. Media and Communication, 11(1), 278–292. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v11i1.6111
In line with the urgency of problems related to climate change, studies on the framing of this issue have flourished in recent years. However, as in framing research overall,a lack of definitions complicates the synthesis of theoretical/empirical insights. This systematic review contrasts trends of framing in climate change communication to those observed in reviews of communication research overall and harnesses framing’s power to bridge perspectives by comparing frames across different frame locations(i.e., frame production, frame content, audience frames, and framing effects), as part of the wider cultural framing repository. Combining quantitative and qualitative approaches of content analysis, this review draws on 25 years of peer-reviewed literature on the framing of climate change (n = 275). Among the findings, we observe that research has not made use of framing’s bridging potential. Hence, the conceptual (mis)fit between frame locations will be discussed, and directions for future research will be given.
Guenther, L. / Jörges, S. / Mahl, D. / Brüggemann, M. (2023): Framing as a Bridging Concept for Climate Change Communication: A Systematic Review Based on 25 Years of Literature. Communication Research, 009365022211371. https://doi.org/10.1177/00936502221137165
How food is produced and consumed matters for both our health and our societies’ ecological footprint. Yet, food practices are a topic at the margins of news coverage and journalism studies. We narrow this research gap by exploring the framing of food in the news. Combining automated and manual content analysis, we study 10,022 articles published in elite newspapers from Germany, the United States (U.S.) and India (2016–2018). Food-related terms are frequently mentioned, but rarely become the main topic of an article. We identified 23 topics associated with five broader frames. The frames Pleasure and Art of Eating and Drinking and Body and Health are most prominent, while other aspects as articulated in the frames Sustainable Living, and Rituals and Traditions as well as Convenience and Price are neglected. U.S. newspapers tend to focus on recipes and restaurant reviews. Indian newspapers highlight health issues and weight loss. In Germany, there was less coverage focusing on food, but with a more even attention to different frames. Food reporting remains to be apolitical, a diversity of food choices is covered – with subtle disregard for questions of sustainability.
Brüggemann, M. / Kunert, J. / Sprengelmeyer, L. (2022): Framing Food in the News: Still Keeping the Politics out of the Broccoli. Journalism Practice, 1–23. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2022.2153074.
Investigative journalism is about uncovering what shall not be covered, yet, blind spots remain. This paper explores what topics investigative journalists consider to be neglected in different regions of the world, why these topics are not covered, and how journalists strive to report them in spite of difficulties. We theorize the blind spots by drawing on the Hierarchy of Influences Model, meaning that blind spots in investigative reporting are deeply rooted in these influences. We explore these issues in a global comparative approach and conducted qualitative face-to-face interviews at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2019 with 90 investigative journalists from 60 countries. Our findings show that many topics can’t be worked on due to repercussions from four levels of the Hierarchy of Influences Model (esp. from the wider social system), leading to self-censorship. The journalists overcome these obstacles with resourceful individual actions (e.g. publishing from abroad) since their media outlets and organizations are often not fit to help them due to resource constraints. Thus, journalists may defy the hierarchy and see it as their mission to persist, also and especially in countries in the Global South. However, obstacles are found globally and directly affect the nuts and bolts of journalism, such as access to information and sources.
Kunert, J. / Brüggemann, M. / Frech, J. / Lilienthal, V. / Loosen, W. (2022): “You suck it up and you deal with it”: Blind spots in investigative reporting and how to overcome them. Journalism, 146488492211469. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/14648849221146929.
To what extent was Greta Thunberg a ‘polarizing figure’ on Facebook, in the period when she received the most extensive media attention? The paper analyses seven months of discussion concerning Thunberg and her message of intergenerational climate justice, using all relevant posts on public Facebook pages in Germany, Sweden, and the UK. We find that there are many similarities in the attitudes expressed and topics discussed on Facebook in the three countries; however, there are also some striking differences in the levels of polarisation. This comparative study provides evidence that the level of polarisation around these topics on Facebook is very low in Sweden and the UK, but high in Germany. In Germany, a group of political actors stand out as particularly polarising, and, in contrast to the other two countries, the topic of intergeneration justice, the core of Thunberg’s message, is almost absent from the German Facebook discourse. The study shows that Thunberg was not in general a polarising figure in the three European countries and that neither the affordances offered by the platform nor features of her person, message, or activism explain the observed polarisation around Thunberg on Facebook.
Elgesem, Dag; Brüggemann, Michael (2022): Polarisation or just differences in opinion: How and why Facebook users disagree about Greta Thunberg. In European Journal of Communication, 02673231221116179. DOI: 10.1177/02673231221116179.
Mehr als eine Dekade der Nicht-Kommunikation, der Untätigkeit und des Verdrängens liegt hinter uns. Heiße, trockene Sommer, grenzüberschreitende Jugendproteste und eine ‚Jahrhundertflut‘ im Westen Deutschlands haben den Klimawandel in das öffentliche Bewusstsein gedrängt und gezeigt: Klimawandel passiert hier vor Ort, vor der Haustür jedes und jeder Einzelnen. Expertinnen und Experten weltweit sind sich einig: Eine sofortige Reduktion von Emissionen ist längst überfällig. Vor und neben dem Handeln steht aber eine Verständigung über Probleme, Verantwortlichkeiten, angemessene Reaktionen und Ziele im Klimaschutz. Und dafür ist Klimakommunikation so wichtig, verstanden als das öffentliche Selbstgespräch der Gesellschaft über das Thema Klimawandel. Wir zeichnen die großen Linien dieses Gesprächs nach, werfen einen Blick in Richtung USA, diskutieren blinde Flecken des Journalismus und erklären, wie der Berufsstand seiner ökologischen Verantwortung gerecht werden könnte.
Brüggemann, Michael; Jörges, Susan (2022): Zwischen Unterlassung und ökologischer Verantwortung: Klimajournalismus in Zeiten kognitiver Dissonanz. In KLIMA vor acht (Ed.): Medien in der Klima-Krise. München: Oekom, pp. 27–44.