What Does the End of Newspapers Mean for the Environment?
Dec 22 2018 Read 1746 Times
Over the last decade, newspaper circulation has been in an apparently terminal decline, with figures plummeting this year for many of the UK’s biggest publications. While that phenomenon may appear to be good news for the environment on the surface of things, due to a reduced consumption of paper, ink and other resources, new research appears to suggest the opposite.
A recent study conducted by Pamela Campa from the Stockholm School of Economics found a correlation between the media coverage of industrial plants and a corresponding reduction in their emissions. Although Campa stopped short of making conclusive judgements, she infers that media scrutiny deters companies from breaking environmental law, thus helping to benefit the environment in the long run.
The power of the pen
In conducting her research, Campa collated data on the top 20 polluters from each state in the USA, using a sophisticated air quality network known as Toxics Release Inventory as her source. She then searched for print media stories about those 1,000 sources of pollution and cross-referenced her findings against the emissions from the plants over time.
The results were initially disappointing; of the 1,000 top polluters, a mere 4% received any media coverage at all. However, among that 4%, there was a distinct relationship between negative press coverage and a consequent reduction in emissions. For example, the Somerset Power Plant in Massachusetts was reported to be the third largest emitter of CO2 in 2002. Before the news report, it had produced emissions of over 400,000kg; afterwards, that figure dropped by 60% to just 180,000kg.
“Before these plants are featured in the news, their emissions evolve over time in a trend that is comparable to plants that are not covered in the newspapers,” she said. “Then, after I observe some newspaper coverage, the plant that is in the news drops its toxic emissions.”
Local journalism on the wane
Unfortunately, it appears that local journalism is dying a slow death to the advent of online news. Approximately 20% of all American community newspapers (1,800) have gone out of business or merged interests with another entity in the last 14 years, and a similar trend can also be observed in the UK.
That means that while public interest and awareness of environmental issues has increased - as evidenced by the popularity of events like CEM 2018 - more and more communities are being deprived of localised exposure of bad practices. Since online platforms have access to and receive a readership spread out all over the globe, they are less likely to cover local stories and businesses. This theoretically allows industrial plants to get away with infringement of environmental regulations, since there are no whistle-blowers to highlight their transgressions.
“It's not clear what the incentives are for the internet news media, which has a very diffuse global readership, to cover one particular local company,” explains Campa. “Absent these incentives, there might be a scenario in which we know everything that's happening at Apple or Google, but we don't know what is happening at the company in our neighbourhood.”
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