Newspaper Coverage and Climate Change Legislative Activity across US States

There has been no federal legislation in the US regarding global climate change. Yet, state-level and city governments have exhibited policy leadership on this subject. How has this varied across states, specifically how has newspaper coverage about global climate change influenced legislative activity across US states during the period 1998–2006? Drawing insights from the literature on the impact of media on agenda setting, we employ regression analysis to understand the impact of newspaper coverage on the introduction of global climate change bills across 17 US states. Newspaper coverage is operationalized in two ways. First, we focus on the overall tone of the coverage: (1) negative, anti-policy tone; (2) balanced tone; or (3) positive, pro-policy tone. We find that pro- policy narratives are associated with increased legislative activity and balanced narratives are associated with fewer bills aiming at global climate change mitigation. Second, we examine issues addressing: (1) the occurrence of global climate change; (2) its consequences; and (3) global climate change policy solutions. We find that newspaper coverage focused on consequences and policy solutions is associated with increases in the number of introduced bills whereas coverage focused on occurrence is associated with decreases in the number of introduced bills. This article highlights the need to understand the role of subnational units in global public policy especially the implementation of global regimes. Second, we highlight the important role of media in agenda setting and in influencing subnational policy processes.

Global climate change policy can benefit from studying subnational units due to their shared role in policy making and implementation; the role of the media is especially important for this.
The national media need to remind readers about climate governance policies that are being adopted and have already been implemented.
Policy makers should use widely reported extreme weather events as policy ‘windows’ to form policy support, rather than allowing them to ‘downgrade’ the policy discourse to the problem.
When the media report ‘both sides’ of the story, they should also provide information that allows the reader to understand prevalence of one or another side.