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Department of Communication and Media Research International & Comparative Media Research

Framing Climate Change (FCC) 2011-2014


Climate Change is one of the major issues of our time and also a challenge for journalism. The University of Zurich is therefore funding a multi-annual international research project aimed at exploring the role of journalists in framing climate change. Within this project, we have conducted a cross-national survey of journalists who write about climate change for leading media organizations. The study combines the interviews with a content analysis, covering climate journalism in the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and India.

Climate change poses a challenge to policy making but also to journalism, since it is an issue cutting across traditional news beats. It also touches upon local, national and international news, and requires journalists to deal with scientific risk assessment rather than just delivering facts about events.

Our research project 'Framing Climate Change' explores how journalists turn the issue of climate change into news stories. The first step is to answer some very basic questions: Who are the journalists shaping climate debates in leading media organizations? What kind of stories do they wish to tell? The second step is to analyze different articles on climate change and investigate what kinds of stories actually dominate the news on this topic in different countries and media outlets. In a third step, we will use the information gathered in the interviews to understand the differences in climate reporting. Thus, we wish to enhance our understanding of the dynamics in the debates on climate change in different countries.

The first project advances in four steps:

2011: Conceptual work: Journalistic framing and review of past research on framing climate change

2012: Journalist survey in five countries

2013: Content analysis in leading news outlets (print and offline) in each country

2014: Connecting survey and content analysis data / project publications

The project is funded by a post-doc credit granted to Michael Brüggemann by the University of Zurich. The research is conducted at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research in Zurich by Michael Brüggemann (project leader) in cooperation with Sven Engesser. Framing Climate Change is supported by a team of research assistants (Laura Schacht, Sandra Haberthür, Mathias Blatter, Fabian Schmid, Anna Lehmann; Laia Castro) and students who pursue their master degree (Diego Bühler/Hannah Freese 2012) in the context of the project.

Theoretical Background

• Journalists as interpretive community (Zelizer, 1993)

• Frames as patterns of interpretation and presentation (Gitlin 1980)

• Three types of frames:

− Generic frames: interpretations across topics (Semetko and Valkenburg, 2000)

− Issue-specific frames: problem definitions on a specific topic (Entman 1993)

− Master frames: concepts that integrate issue-specific frames (Benford and Snow 1992)

• From “agenda-setting” and “agenda-sending” (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995) to frame-setting and frame-sending

Research Questions and Hypothesis

Research questions

RQ1: What and how do journalists contribute to news frames?

RQ2: How do journalists interpret climate change? (journalist frames)

RQ3: How do journalists present climate change? (news frames)


H1: They provide us with their personal interpretations of issues. (frame-setting)

H2: They echo the frames from influential actors. (frame-sending)

Theoretical Model


Research design:

• Online survey to measure journalist frames

• Content analysis to measure news frames


• Holistic approach to measure generic frames

• Modular approach to measure issue-specific frames (causes, problems, and solutions)


• Climate journalists: Authors of articles on climate change at leading news outlets (elite, regional, and popular press, online) in CH, DE, GB, IN, US (N = 64)

• Their print and online articles published in 2011 and 2012 (N = 750).

Data analysis:

• First- and second-order principal component analyses to identify issue-specific frames

• Bivariate correlations and (hierarchical) multiple linear regression analysis to identify relations between journalist frames and news frames.

Empirical Model
Generic Frames
Issue-specific journalist frames


• Climate journalists as interpretive community connected by common frames

• Different degrees of frame-setting and frame-sending in different contexts

• Journalistic “frame freedom” depends on how journalist frames fit to…

- editorial guidelines

- journalistic routines

- public/elite opinion (conflicts/consensus on climate change)

Working Papers and Publications

Teaching on Climate Change Communication