• Television;
  • environmental risk;
  • communications;
  • news

ABC, CBS, and NBC's carefully crafted and expensively produced evening news broadcasts devoted 1.7% of their air time to 564 stories about man-made environmental risks during the period from January 1984 to February 1986. Little relationship was found between amount of coverage and public health risk. Instead, the networks appeared to be using traditional journalistic determinants of news (timeliness, proximity, prominence, consequence, and human interest) plus the broadcast criterion of visual impact to determine the degree of coverage of risk issues. Government, industry, and citizens accounted for two-thirds of the sources cited by the networks. Experts and spokespersons for environmental advocacy groups were sparsely used as sources. Given the media's need for news pegs, acute and chronic risk stories were covered differently. Acute risk stories were reported in a clearly defined cycle, peaking on the second day with on-the-scene reports and film-clips of devastation. In keeping with a decrease in visual drama, later reports were shorter and emphasized legal and political considerations. Chronic risk coverage followed the release of new scientific, legal, or political information.