This report investigates media coverage of climate change by four Australian outlets, owned by News Corp Australia, over 12 months from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020. The chosen outlets are the print and online editions of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, and the Courier Mail. Mastheads that have a Sunday edition were merged with daily editions. For example, The Daily Telegraph includes The Sunday Telegraph.
The Australian is one of only two national newspapers in Australia. (The other is The Australian Financial Review which is owned by Nine Entertainment Co.). The Daily Telegraph is published in Sydney and competes with The Sydney Morning Herald which is owned by Nine Entertainment Co. The Herald Sun is published in Melbourne and competes with The Age which is also owned by Nine Entertainment Co. The Courier Mail is the only metropolitan daily newspaper in Brisbane. (More details about each of these publications can be found in the relevant sections of this report.)
There are a variety of different approaches that can be used to analyse media coverage. This study used an exhaustive sampling method and content analysis which involves coding different characteristics of the coverage. This provides a view of the ‘shape’ and patterns of the coverage (Ericson, Baranek & Chan, 1991, p.50; Bacon & Nash, 2003). This is supplemented with case studies and examples to provide further depth of understanding of how journalistic and editing strategies are used to produce particular types of coverage (Bacon & Nash, 2012). Finally, journalistic research techniques are used to highlight gaps and silences in reporting.
3.1 Content analysis
The Dow Jones Factiva database (owned by News Corp) was used to retrieve all articles which mentioned and/or dealt with climate science, global warming, climate change, climate policy, carbon or greenhouse emissions or climate activism. All items were included which mentioned any of these search terms whether or not it was the main theme of the article or only a minor yet still relevant mention. Items were excluded where the mention was merely incidental. For example, an item in which there was a reference to a ‘Minister for Climate Change’ but no other relevant mention of climate change at all was excluded from the sample.
News Corp shares many articles among their publications. We counted each occurrence as a separate item. Many items also occurred in both print and online editions of the same publication. In these cases, items were only counted once.
Recruitment and training of researchers for coding of content
Potential coders were recruited, briefed and then checked for research experience before taking a competency test. All candidates underwent various stages of training, including an induction to the underlying research concepts, a practical coding test, and, for those who were selected, on-the-spot training to ensure consistency and to limit variability where interpretation was involved in coding. Only those who had demonstrated a high level of accuracy were included in the final coding team. Ongoing feedback and training was provided throughout the project.
Comprehensive data validation mechanisms were in place and any systemic irregularities that were identified were addressed. All raw data was entered into spreadsheets and checks were conducted to ensure accuracy and consistency in coding; for example, selections of data were double-coded and systematic sampling was used to survey coding consistency. Researchers were also given the option for the research coordinator to check information that was difficult to code. The margin of error was further mitigated by using a large sample size, where emerging patterns are clear and more accurate.
- Headline or first words of letters.
- Type of item: four types of journalism (news, features, editorials, opinion) and readers’ letters.
- Word count (for selected sample only).
- Dominant theme.
- Second theme of item, where relevant.
Source analysis - sources quoted in articles
- Analysis of sources quoted for reportage which includes news and features. If present, names of first and second sources quoted were coded.
- Occupation, affiliation and identifiable gender of each source.
Attitude or stance towards action to mitigate or adapt to climate change
- Stance of item towards action to address climate change (positive, negative, neutral, N/A).
Attitude to key findings of climate science
- Attitude to findings of climate science including scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and other key climate science findings including on extreme weather and climate change. Researchers were asked to allocate each article into one of four categories - rejects, questions or raises doubt, accepts, or, unable to discern.
- These last two categories require interpretation. Researchers were provided with standardised principles sourced from publicly available information to encourage consistency. These issues are further discussed in the sections 4.5 and 4.6.
- All numerical figures in this report have been rounded to whole numbers.
3.2 Case studies
Case studies and examples are used to explore the data in more depth. These provide an understanding of how News Corp Australia uses journalistic strategies to produce particular types of coverage and meaning.
Gaps and silences are significant features of media coverage: we used journalistic research methods to reveal some of these.
3.3 Language analysis
Detailed discourse analysis was not within the scope of this research but coders identified a list of descriptors of organisations, activities and people that address climate change. These have been discussed in Section 6.4.