4.1 Research design and methodology

This report uses the methodological approaches of content analysis and case study analysis to investigate media coverage of climate science in Australia.

The content analysis covers 10 Australian newspapers over three months in two consecutive years. The chronological parameters were between February 1st and April 30th in 2011 and 2012. This was different from the sample period for our first study which was February 1st, 2011 to July 31st 2011.

The content analysis has been supplemented with a series of case studies and examples to provide further depth of understanding of how journalistic and editing strategies are used to produce particular types of coverage.

We selected ten newspapers. These were: The Australian, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Advertiser, The Courier Mail, The Northern Territory News (NT News), The Mercury and The West Australian. (Note: Mastheads that have a Sunday edition were merged. For example, The Age figures include The Sunday Age figures.

Figure 4.1.1 shows Audit Bureau of Circulation (2012) figures for circulation and Roy Morgan Research (2012) figures for readership, ownership and format of selected newspapers.

Figure 4.1.1: Ten Australian newspapers: 2012 ownership and circulation statistics.
Newspaper Location Owner Circulation 2012 Readership 2012 Format 2012 Target audience Notes
The Advertiser Adelaide, SA Newscorp 166178 449000 Tabloid General audience Is the only metropolitan daily in Adelaide
The Age Melbourne, Vic. Fairfax 157480 566000 Broadsheet Higher income readers In March 2013 The Age weekday editions moved to tabloid format
The Australian National Newscorp 122428 405000 Broadsheet Higher income readers Is the only national non-specialist newspaper
The Courier Mail Brisbane, QLD Newscorp 185770 503000 Tabloid General audience Is the only metropolitan daily available in Brisbane
The Daily Telegraph Sydney, NSW Newscorp 333424 781000 Tabloid Lower income readers The second biggest circulation newspaper in Australia
Herald Sun Melbourne, Vic. Newscorp 450090 1116000 Tabloid Lower income readers The biggest circulation newspaper in Australia
The Mercury Hobart, Tas. Newscorp 40033 92000 Tabloid General audience Is the only metropolitan newspaper available in Hobart
The Northern Territory News Darwin, NT Newscorp 17782 36000 Tabloid General audience Is the only metropolitan newspaper available in Darwin
The Sydney Morning Herald Sydney, NSW Fairfax 157931 612000 Broadsheet Higher income readers In March 2013 the SMH weekday editions moved to tabloid format
The West Australian Perth, WA Seven West Media 176105 493000 Tabloid General audience Is the only metropolitan newspaper in Perth. Feeds into Channel 7 Yahoo Website.

Download data as .csv or view on GitHub

Seven of these publications are owned by News Corp which dominates the Australian print/online media landscape. These include The Australian, which is Australia’s only national newspaper targeted at a general audience, and six metropolitan newspapers including the Melbourne based tabloid Herald Sun and the Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph. The other News Corp publications The Mercury, The Advertiser, The Courier Mail and the NT News are the only publications in their respective capital cities. The other publications are the Fairfax owned SMH, Melbourne based The Age and The West Australian, which is owned by Seven West Media and dominates the media in Western Australia.

Given the emergence of internet based media, some may question the choice of newspapers as the focus for analysis. Increasingly, readers access their information from a range of internet publications and ideally these would be included as well. Internet analysis was not possible for this project as it is more time consuming as content shifts more regularly.

However, American research has shown that the news content of internet versions of mainstream newspapers is not significantly different from the print version although it may be presented differently (Hoffman, L.H., 2006). In Australia although some extra wire stories may be added, national and metropolitan newspapers still provide the core of their own web versions and that they remain influential is setting the daily news agenda. For example, news headlines are often used to set the agenda for morning radio and TV programs. For this reason, we consider that our selection provides a good snapshot of the nature of the coverage during this period, although it needs to be supplemented with further research that examines the way that news is presented and prioritised.


The Dow Jones Factiva database was used to retrieve all articles which mentioned climate science and its findings. Researchers removed those items that only included incidental mentions of climate change policy. For example, articles that only included references to the ‘Minister for Climate Change’ were not included and if ‘climate change’ merely appeared in a list of items in a story on a quite different topic, the article was excluded.

Pieces in which climate change science was not the main focus of the article but which nevertheless included even a small amount of significant content about climate change were included. For example, if there is a reference to quantity of greenhouse gas emissions, the article was included. We also removed articles that focused solely on the Australian political debate around climate policy without any significant reference to the phenomenon of climate change. A six month sample including such climate policy articles in 2011 formed the basis of our first report.

Where the same article is published in more than one outlet, each occurrence is counted as a separate article.

This resulted in a sample of 602 articles.

Social science and media students from the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney were selected as researchers to be part of the study. They were trained in coding according to selected criteria. Academic researchers also participated. All raw data was entered into spreadsheets and checks were conducted to ensure accuracy in coding.

Articles were coded into spreadsheets according to:

It should be noted that all figures in this report have been rounded to a whole figure, for example 3.26% was rounded off to 3%.

Case studies

The content analysis has been supplemented with examples and case studies of different aspects of this research.

In some cases, the development of the case studies involved investigating the origins of stories or checking whether reports or story angles were pursued by particular publications. Factiva database searches were used to investigate these issues.