Place, distance, and environmental news: Geographic variation in newspaper coverage of the spotted owl conflict

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This paper examines the geographic variation of newspaper coverage of the conflict over northern spotted owls and old-growth forest protection in the Pacific Northwest. We address four issues: the extent to which newspaper 'framing' of the conflict favored one side or the other, the way in which coverage varied among newspapers publishing in different cities around the country, the extent to which that variation was related to the newspapers' physical distance from the Pacific Northwest, and the extent to which variation was related to other characteristics of the newspapers' locations. We content-analyzed the news coverage in ten major daily newspapers for the period 1990-1994. Dependent variables were number of stories, story length, number of sources, and the number of 'pro-cut' or 'pro-save' news sources and story themes appearing in each article. Independent variables were physical distance, economic ties, political dominance, lumber-industry employment, environmentalism, and political and environmental pluralism. In the 408 stories we analyzed, there was a significant tendency to present story themes that parallel the pro-cut side of the conflict. Regression results showed physical distance and economic connections both to be significant predictors of the number and length of stories and number of sources, with explained variance ranging from 38 to 78 percent. Variation in the framing of the story was more difficult to predict, although there does appear to be some relationship to voter registration and environmental membership patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-676
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999


  • Environmental reporting
  • News media
  • Northern spotted owl
  • Old-growth forests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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