J5.2 Public Reactions to Climate Change Information Presented by Local TV Meteorologists

Friday, 12 June 2015: 9:00 AM
304 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Robert Edward Drost, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; and R. Mazzone, T. Myers, and E. Maibach

Handout (16.1 MB)

Broadcast meteorologists are typically well-known and trusted members of their community, and television is the most frequently accessed source of weather information. Through their roles on-air, on-line, in social media, and in community presentations, TV meteorologists play a vital role in shaping public understanding of weather. TV meteorologists can also play a role in shaping public understanding of climate change, including its local implications, but because reporting on climate change is a relatively new role for TV meteorologists little is known about viewer reactions to such reporting.

In Fall 2014, to assess how viewers react to local news broadcasts in which a meteorologist reports about the influence of climate change on local weather, we conducted in-depth interviews with 32 local news viewers in several Virginia media markets (Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Tri-Cities/Bristol). Several months prior to the study, all of the research participants had participated in a random-digit dial telephone survey about climate change conducted by our team, so we knew their age, gender, and predispositions about climate change prior to inviting them to participate in the in-depth interview. For this study, we purposively created a diverse sample of local TV news viewers by inviting approximately equal numbers of men and women, approximately equal numbers of younger (age 20 to 39), middle-aged (40 to 59) and older adults (60+), and approximately equal numbers of people with three distinct views of climate change (who were convinced that human-caused climate change is happening, who were skeptical, and who were not sure one way or the other) to participate in the research.

The approximately 30 minute interviews were conducted via telephone and the web (Go To Meeting), enabling us to show participants stationary graphics and videos during the interview. The interviews started with a range of general questions – including frequency of watching the weather segment, favorite and least favorite part of weather segments, favorite weathercaster and why – and proceeded to increasingly more specific questions including whether the participant had ever seen a TV weathercaster report on climate change, level of interest in hearing such reporting, and climate change topics of interest. Participants were then shown a static graphic and asked questions to ascertain how they reacted to the graphic, and what they learned from it. This process was repeated using a second graphic. Climate Central had produced the “Climate Matters” graphics for use by broadcast meteorologists; the aim of the graphics is to convey one idea about climate change, usually its local impact. Finally, participants were shown a video clip of a Virginia-based TV meteorologist using a Climate Matters graphics in on-air reporting, and asked questions about their reactions and what they learned. This process was repeated with a second video clip showing a different Virginia-based TV weathercaster. Participants were compensated for their time with a $50 gift card (Visa or Amazon).

Two trained researchers are currently coding the interview data using a free-text coding software tool (Nvivo). As a first step, coding categories were developed using a grounded theory approach. Next, inter-coder reliability was evaluated using two interviews; inter-coder reliability was found to be high (Cohen's Kappa = .86). Currently, the remaining interviews are being coded.

Analysis of this data will be finalized in February and March, this abstract will be revised to include key findings in April, and the full results of the study will be presented at the meeting in June.

Findings from this study will be used by Climate Central to improve their Climate Matters program, and will provide important novel information about how local TV news viewers react to information about climate change presented by local TV meteorologists.

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