Volume 10 · Number 1 · Pages 140–149

< Previous Paper · Next Paper >

Do the Media Fail to Represent Reality? A Constructivist and Second-order Critique of the Research on Environmental Media Coverage and Its Normative Implications

Julia Völker & Armin Scholl

Download the full text in
PDF (584 kB)

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Problem: First-order scientific research is often not aware of the hidden assumptions provided by an epistemological perspective based upon realism. Beyond philosophical considerations about the epistemological foundations, some practical normative implications deriving from them are crucial: in the field of communication and media studies, some scholars criticize media coverage, e.g., on climate change, as biased and distorted from reality. Method: From a constructivist perspective, the article presents a detailed meta-analysis of the course of argumentation provided by two empirical communication studies that follow an objectivist approach. Result: With the help of a second-order research strategy, it is possible to uncover their ontological assumptions and criticize their normative implications. Implications: Social scientists should be careful with normative suggestions for the system under study (e.g., journalists) unless they are applied within these systems themselves.

Key words: Meta-analysis, second-order research, epistemology, communication studies, climate change, bias.


Völker J. & Scholl A. (2014) Do the media fail to represent reality? A constructivist and second-order critique of the research on environmental media coverage and its normative implications. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 140–149. http://constructivist.info/10/1/140

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Scholl A. (2012) Author’s Response: What Constructivism Does not Say

Scholl A. (2012) Between Realism and Constructivism? Luhmann’s Ambivalent Epistemological Standpoint

Scholl A. (2013) Exploring Luhmann’s Constructivism. Review of “Ontologien der Moderne” edited by René John et al. and of “Luhmann Handbuch” edited by Oliver Jahraus et al.

Scholl A. (2008) Non-dualizing Philosophy and Empirical Research

Riegler A. & Scholl A. (2012) Niklas Luhmann and the Sociological Turn in Constructivism


Ader C. R. (1995) A longitudinal study of agenda setting for the issue of environmental pollution. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 72(2): 300–311. << Google Scholar

Anderson A., Petersen A., Wilkinson C. & Allan S. (2009) Nanotechnology, risk and communication. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. << Google Scholar

Antilla L. (2005) Climate of skepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change. Global Environmental Change Part A 15: 338–352. << Google Scholar

Bell A. (1994) Media (mis)communication on the science of climate change. Public Understanding of Science 3(3): 259–275. << Google Scholar

Bonfadelli H., Jarren O. & Siegert G. (2005) Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft – Ein transdiziplinäres Fach [Public communication studies and communication science – A transdisciplinary field]. In: Bonfadelli H. Jarren O. & Siegert G. (eds.) Einführung in die Publizistikwissenschaft [Introduction to public communication studies and communication science]. Second edition. Haupt, Bern: 3–16. << Google Scholar

Boykoff M. T. & Boykoff J. M. (2004) Balance as bias. Global warming and the US prestige press. Global Environmental Change 14(2): 125–136. << Google Scholar

Boykoff M. T. & Boykoff J. M. (2007) Climate change and journalistic norms: A case study of US mass-media coverage. Geoforum 38:1190–1204. << Google Scholar

Brüggemann M. & Engesser S. (2014) Between consensus and denial. Climate jour-nalists as interpretive community. Science Communication 36(4): 399–427. << Google Scholar

Burr V. (2003) Social constructionism. Second edition. Routledge, London. << Google Scholar

Carvalho A. (2007) Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: Re-reading news on climate change. Public Understanding of Science 16: 223–243. << Google Scholar

Dörner A. (2001) Politainment. Politik in der medialen Erlebnisgesellschaft [Politainment. Politics in the mediatized thrill-seeking society society]. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main. << Google Scholar

Deuze M. (2005) What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsid­ered. Journalism 6(4): 442–64. << Google Scholar

Dunwoody S. & Peters H.-P. (1993) Mass media coverage of technological and environmental risks: A survey of research in the United States and Germany. Public Understanding of Science 1(2): 199–230. << Google Scholar

Foerster H. Von (1970) Thoughts and notes on cognition. In: Garvin P. (ed.) Cognition. A multiple view. Spartan Books, New York: 25–48. << Google Scholar

Foerster H. von (2003) Cybernetics of cybernetics. In: Foerster H. von (ed.) Understanding understanding. Essays on cybernetics and cognition. Springer, New York: 283–286. Originally published in 1979. << Google Scholar

Fox J. R., Park B. (2006) The “I” of embedded reporting: an analysis of CNN coverage of the “Shock and Awe” campaign. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50(1): 36–51. << Google Scholar

Fumerton R. (2002) Realism and the correspondence theory of truth. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham. << Google Scholar

Görke A. & Kohring M. (1996) Unterschiede, die Unterschiede machen: Neuere Theorieentwürfe zu Publizistik, Massenmedien und Journalismus [Distinctions that cause distinctions: Recent theoretical approaches to public communication studies, mass media and journalism]. Publizistik 41(1): 15–31. << Google Scholar

Görke A. (1999) Risikojournalismus und Risikogesellschaft. Sondierung und Theorieentwurf [Risk journalism and risk society. Probe and theoretical outline]. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen. << Google Scholar

Görke A. (2003) Unterhaltung als Leistungssystem öffentlicher Kommunikation [Entertainment as a service system of public communication]. In: Schmidt S. J., Westerbarkey J. & Zurstiege G. (eds.) A/effektive Kommunikation. Unterhaltung und Werbung [A/effective communication: Entertainment and advertising]. Second Edition. Lit, Münster: 53–74. << Google Scholar

Göttlich U. & Herbers M. R. (2014) Would Jürgen Habermas enjoy the daily show? Entertainment media and the normative presuppositions of the political public sphere. In: Lievrouw L. A. (ed.) Challenging communication research: Selected papers from the International Communication Association Annual Conference. Peter Lang, New York: 77–90. << Google Scholar

Göttlich U. (2009) Auf dem Weg zur Unterhaltungsöffentlichkeit? Aktuelle Herausforderungen des Öffentlichkeitswandels in der Medienkultur [On the way to an entertaining public sphere? Recent challenges to media culture caused by the structural transformation of the public sphere]. In: Göttlich U. & Porombka S. (eds.) Die Zweideutigkeit der Unterhaltung. Zugangsweisen zur Populären Kultur [The ambiguity of entertainment. Approaches to popular culture]. Von Halem, Köln: 202–219. << Google Scholar

Glanville R. (2004) The purpose of second-order cybernetics. Kybernetes 33(9/10): 1379–1386. << Google Scholar

Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. The Falmer Press, London. << Google Scholar

Glasser T. L. (1992) Objectivity and news bias. In: Cohen E. D. (ed.) Philosophical issues in journalism. Oxford University Press, New York: 176–185. << Google Scholar

Hackett R. A. (1984) Decline of a paradigm? Bias and objectivity in news media studies. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 1(3): 229–259. << Google Scholar

Hofstetter C. R. (1976) Bias in the news. Network television news coverage of the 1972 election campaign. Ohio State University Press, Columbus. << Google Scholar

Holliman R. (2011) Advocacy in the tail: Exploring the implications of “climategate” for science journalism and the public debate in the digital age. Journalism 12(7): 832–846. << Google Scholar

Hulme M. & Mahony M. (2013) Climate panel is ripe for examination. Nature 502 (7473): 624. << Google Scholar

Hyde J. (2006) News coverage of genetic cloning: When science journalism becomes future-oriented speculation. Journal of Communication Inquiry 30(3): 229–250. << Google Scholar

Kitzinger J. & Reilly J. (1997) The rise and fall of risk reporting. Media coverage of human genetics research, “false memory syndrome” and “mad cow disease.” European Journal of Communication 12(3): 319–350. << Google Scholar

Kohring M. (2005) Wissenschaftsjournalismus. Forschungsüberblick und Theorieentwurf [Science journalism. Research overview and theoretical approach]. UVK, Konstanz. Second edition. Originally published in 1997. << Google Scholar

Krippendorff K. (2013) Content analysis. An introduction in its methodology. Sage Publications, Los Angeles CA. << Google Scholar

Kuhn T. S. (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. Second edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. << Google Scholar

Laclau E (2005) On populist reason. Verso, London. << Google Scholar

Laclau E.(2000) Constructing universality. In: Butler J., Laclau E. & Žižek S. (eds.) Contingency, hegemony, universality: Contemporary dialogues on the left. Verso, London: 281–307. << Google Scholar

Lakoff G. (2010) Why it matters how we frame the environment. Environmental Communication, 4(1): 70–81. << Google Scholar

Lewis J. (2004) Television, public opinion and the war in Iraq: the case of Britain. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 16(3): 295–310. << Google Scholar

Lichtenberg J. (2005) In defense of objectivity revisited. In: Curran J. & Gurevitch M (eds.) Mass media and society. Arnold, London: 216–31. << Google Scholar

Luhmann N. (1984) Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie [Social systems. A sketch of a universal theory]. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp. << Google Scholar

Luhmann N. (1997) Was ist Kommunikation [What is communication]? In: Simon F. B. (ed.) Lebende Systeme. Wirklichkeitskonstruktionen in der Systemischen Therapie [The construction of reality in systematic therapy]. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main: 19–31. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition. The realization of living. Reidel, Dordrecht. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1998) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala, Boston. << Google Scholar

Maturana H. R. (1988) Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 25–82. Available at http://enolagaia.com/M88Reality.html

Maurer M. (2011) Wie Journalisten mit Ungewissheit umgehen. Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel der Berichterstattung über die Folgen des Klimawandels [How journalists dal with uncertainty. A study using the example of reporting on the impact of climate change]. Medien und Kommunikationswissenschaft 59(1): 60–74. << Google Scholar

McChesney R. W. (2003) The problem of journalism. A political economic contribution to an explanation of the crisis in contemporary US journalism. Journalism Studies 4(3): 299–329. << Google Scholar

McComas K. & Shanahan J. (1999) Telling stories about global climate change: Measuring the impact of narratives on issue cycles. Communication Research 26(1): 30–57. << Google Scholar

Noelle-Neumann E. (2001) Die Schweigespirale. Öffentliche Meinung – unsere soziale Haut [The spiral of silence. Public opinion – our social skin]. Sixth edition. Langen Müller, Munich. << Google Scholar

Oreskes N. (2004) Beyond the ivory tower. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science 306: 1686. << Google Scholar

Pörksen B. (2010) Konstruktivismus [Constructivism]. In Schicha C. & Brosda C. (eds.) Handbuch Medienethik [Handbook media ethics]. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden: 53–67. << Google Scholar

Piaget J. (1971) The construction of reality in the child. Ballantine, New York. French original published in 1937. << Google Scholar

Riegler A. (2001) Towards a radical constructivist understanding of science. Foundations of Science 6: 1–30. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/riegler/20

Riegler A. (2005) Editorial. The constructivist challenge. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 1–8. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/1/1/001.riegler

Schmidt S. J. (2011) From objects to processes. A proposal to rewrite radical constructivism. Constructivist Foundations 7(1): 1–9. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/articles/7/1/001.schmidt.pdf

Scholl A. (2007) Frage und Antwort als poröse Kommunikationsform. Zur Konstruktion von Stabilität und Unsicherheit in der wissenschaftlichen Befragung [Question and answer as a poriferous form of communication. On the construction of stability and uncertainty in scientific surveys]. SPIEL 26(1): 179–188. << Google Scholar

Scholl A. (2008) Non-dualizing philosophy and empirical research. Con-structivist Foundations 3(3): 172–180.Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/articles/3/3/172.scholl.pdf << Google Scholar

Scholl A. (2010) Radical constructivism in communication science. Con-structivist Foundations 6(1): 51–57. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/articles/6/1/051.scholl.pdf

Scholl A. (2011) Der unauflösbare Zusammenhang von Fragestellung, Theorie, Methode oder: Die reflexive Bedeutung der Methodologie (nicht nur) in der Journalismusforschung [The indissoluble connection of research question, theory, and method, or: The reflexive impact of me-thodology (not only) on journalism research]. In: Quandt T. & Jandura O. (eds.) Methoden der Journalismusforschung [Methods in journalism research]. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden: 15–32. << Google Scholar

Scholl A. (2011) How a process-oriented approach affects empirical re-search. Open peer commentary on Siegfried J. Schmidt’s target article “From objects to processes: A proposal to rewrite radical constructiv-ism.” Constructivist Foundations 7(1): 29–31. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/articles/7/1/029.scholl.pdf

Scholl A. (2011) Konstruktivismus und Methoden in der empirischen So-zialforschung [Constructivism and methods in empirical social re-search]. Medien und Kommunikationswissenschaft 59(2): 161–179. << Google Scholar

Scholl A. (2013) Reaktivität im Forschungsprozess [Reactivity in the pro-cess of research\. In: Möhring W. & Schlütz D. (eds.) Handbuch stand-ardisierte Erhebungsmethoden in der Kommunikationswissenschaft [Handbook of standardized methods of data collection in Communica-tion Science]. Springer VS, Wiesbaden: 79–99. << Google Scholar

Schudson M. (2001) The objectivity norm in american journalism. Journalism 2(2): 149–170. << Google Scholar

Schulz W. (1976) Die Konstruktion von Realität in den Nachrichtenmedien [The construction of reality in news media]. Alber, Freiburg. << Google Scholar

Schulz W. (1989) Massenmedien und Realität. Die “ptolemäische” und die “kopernikanische” Auffassung [Mass media and reality. The “Ptolemaic” and the “Copernican” approach]. In: Kaase M. & Schulz W. (eds.) Massenkommunikation. Theorien, Methoden, Befunde [Mass communication. Theories, methods, findings]. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen: 135–149. << Google Scholar

Scott B. (2004) Second-order cybernetics: an historical perspective. Kybernetes 33 (9/10): 1365–1378. << Google Scholar

Segnit N. & Ereaut G. (2007) Warm words II: How the climate story is evolving and the stories we can learn for encouraging public action. Energy Saving Trust, London. << Google Scholar

Shanahan M. (2007) Talking about a revolution: Climate change and the media. COP 13 Briefing and Opinion Papers. IIED, London: 2−6. << Google Scholar

Shaw D., McCombs M. & Keir G. (1997) Advanced reporting. Discovering patterns in news events. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights IL. << Google Scholar

Soentgen J. & Bilandzic H. (2014) Die Struktur klimaskeptischer Argumente. Verschwörungstheorie als Wissenschaftskritik [The structure of climate-skeptical arguments. Conspiracy theory as a critique of science]. GAiA 1: 40−47. << Google Scholar

Tuchman G. (1972) Objectivity as strategic ritual: An examination of newsmen’s notion of objectivity. The American Journal of Sociology 77(4): 660–679. << Google Scholar

Tumber H., Prentoulis M. (2005) Journalists under fire: Subcultures, objectivity and emo­tional literacy. In: Thussu D. K. & Freedman D. (eds.) War and the media. Reporting conflict 24/7. SAGE, London: 215–230. << Google Scholar

Vasterman P., Scholten O. & Ruigrok N. (2008) A model for evaluating risk reporting. The case of UMTS and fine particles. European Journal of Communication 23(3): 319–341. << Google Scholar

Vliegenthart R. & Boomgaarden H. G. (2007) Real-world indicators and the coverage of immigration and the integration of minorities in Dutch newspapers. European Journal of Communication 22(3): 293–314. << Google Scholar

Weaver D. H. & Willnat L. (eds.) (2012) The global journalist in the 21st century. Routledge, New York. << Google Scholar

Wilson K. M. (2000) Drought, debate, and uncertainty: measuring reporters’ knowledge and ignorance about climate change. Public Understanding of Science 9(1): 1–13. << Google Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.