On SAGE Insight: Can media coverage of wildfire disasters influence policy narratives and lead to policy change?

Article title: Local media coverage of wildfire disasters: An analysis of problems and solutions in policy narratives

From Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space

Many communities face increasing vulnerability to the risks posed by natural hazards, such as floods, wildfires, and hurricanes. In the public policy literature, natural disasters can garner the attention of the public and elites and therefore become focusing events that can open windows of opportunity for policy change to reduce community vulnerability to local risks. This research examines two catastrophic wildfires that occurred in Colorado, USA, to determine how policy narratives about these events may influence policy change. Media coverage is analyzed as a measure of the policy narratives within communities.

It is argued that in order to influence policy dialogs within the context of natural disasters regarding risk mitigation, policy narratives should also include the following elements: (1) a policy problem that is associated with a natural hazard, (2) some referent to ongoing risk or perceived future risk that communities face from a natural hazard, and (3) an understanding that humans have the capacity to mitigate future or ongoing risk from the hazard. Newspaper articles were collected from the local newspapers in Colorado Springs (The Gazette) and Fort Collins (The Coloradoan), and from the largest newspaper covering Colorado and the Intermountain West (The Denver Post). The sampling timeframe was constructed to capture news coverage before, during, and after the June 2012 fires to account for the emergence of policy narratives of the disasters and the evolution of those narratives over time. A total of 876 articles were analyzed for this study, accounting for both state and local coverage and a daily circulation of over 500,000 readers. The conclusion highlights that while the media certainly seemed to respond to wildfire as a focusing event by increasing coverage during periods when wildfires were burning, the narratives analyzed here are perhaps surprisingly unlikely to drive policy change or influence the public demand for policy change. Surveying the public about their responses to media coverage of specific hazards, and even their interpretations of specific media articles, could provide further information on how the public understands and reacts to the narratives that media constructs about disasters and hazards. Finally, comparing policy narratives of other natural disasters, such as tornadoes or hurricanes, to policy narratives about wildfire could provide additional insight into the narratives that may influence policy change related to natural hazards more broadly.

Abstract

Many communities face increasing vulnerability to the risks posed by natural hazards, such as floods, wildfires, and hurricanes. In the public policy literature, natural disasters can garner the attention of the public and elites and therefore become focusing events that can open windows of opportunity for policy change to reduce community vulnerability to local risks. Past decisions by governments to ignore or leave hazard risks unaddressed can also be viewed as policy failures when the disaster results in loss of life or property. Whether risk from such disasters persists depends on whether governments learn and adapt based on their experiences with disasters. This research examines two catastrophic wildfires that occurred in Colorado, USA, to determine how policy narratives about these events may influence policy change. Media coverage is analyzed as a measure of the policy narratives within communities. Findings indicate that patterns of policy narrative construction in these cases may preclude public dialog focused on mitigating wildfire risk through policy change.

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Article details
Local media coverage of wildfire disasters: An analysis of problems and solutions in policy narratives
Deserai A Crow, John Berggren, Lydia A Lawhon, Elizabeth A Koebele, Adrianne Kroepsch, Juhi Huda,
DOI: 10.1177/0263774X16667302
2017, Vol. 35(5)
Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space

 

 

 

     
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