The headline results from our survey of over 50,000 people across 26 countries give the following five insights into the public’s interest in environment news:
- People most interested in news about the environment tend to be left wing, older, and highly educated.
- This is linked to patterns of online news consumption, with the Huffington Post the single most widely used news source in the US among those highly interested in environmental news.
- In the US and the UK, other new players – such as BuzzFeed and Vice – are also more popular with the highly interested than many traditional newspaper and TV brands.
- Just under half of those surveyed say they are highly interested in news about the environment. This is less than those highly interested in news about science and technology, but more than business and economics.
- More broadly, levels of interest in news about the environment vary from country to country, with interest particularly high in Southern Europe, but much lower in the US, the UK and Scandinavia.
Our 2016 Digital News Report describes the results of the largest annual online survey of news consumption in the world. For the first time, we asked those surveyed how interested they are in news about the environment (as well as 11 other news topics). We simply asked our respondents “how interested are you in news about the environment?” and gave them a choice of five options ranging from “not at all” to “extremely” interested. Those who selected either “extremely” or “very” interested are hereafter referred to as those with high interest, or as highly interested. Here, we take a closer look at the results, and link them to wider trends in digital news consumption.
Those highly interested tend to be older, educated, and on the left
Across all 26 countries surveyed we see crucial differences based on politics, age and education. Well over half of those on the left (58%) are highly interested in news about the environment, compared to just 37% of those on the right. Perhaps more surprisingly, older people are more likely to be highly interested, with 49% of over-45s indicating this compared to 43% of under-45s (and only 38% of 18-20 year olds). In terms of education, differences are perhaps smaller than expected, with 43% of those educated to school level (or below) highly interested, compared to 48% with a degree or professional qualification.
We can also use the data to drill down to the national level. In doing this, we focus on data from six countries: UK, USA, France, Poland, Germany, and Spain. Typically, we see that the same patterns are evident. The strongest association we see is between politics and interest levels. In most countries, those on the left are much more likely to be highly interested in environmental news, with those on the right less likely to be highly interested than those who place themselves in the center. The difference is particularly stark in countries like the US and the UK, where overall interest levels are low. Poland is the exception to the rule, with no significant difference in interest levels between those on the left and those on the right.
HIGH INTEREST IN NEWS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT BY POLITICAL LEANINGOlder people are more likely to be interested in news about the environment. In the US, 37% of under-45s report a high level of interest, compared to 43% of those 45 and over. This is in contrast to interest in lifestyle news, which tends to decrease with age, and interest in science and technology news, which doesn’t vary. That older people are more interested in news about the environment may seem a little counter-intuitive, but we should remember that older people tend to more interested in hard news topics generally, and that ‘the environment’ as a news topic can also refer to issues associated with agriculture and the countryside, as well as climate change.
HIGH INTEREST IN NEWS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT BY AGE
Thirdly, those who have been educated to school level or lower tend to be less interested in environmental news than those with university or professional qualifications. Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the difference in most cases is very small, with interest levels actually the same in the UK.
HIGH INTEREST IN NEWS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT BY EDUCATION LEVEL
Other variables, such as gender and income, are not closely correlated with levels of interest. It is also worth noting that the demographic profile of those highly interested in news about science and technology – which it may be tempting to use as a proxy – is quite different, given that those more likely to be interested in this topic tend to be younger, relatively affluent men.
New players as popular online as traditional brands; even more so among those interested in news about the environment
But how does this feed into our data on news consumption? Our survey has consistently shown that TV and online are the most important sources of news. In Spain, the US, and the UK, the proportion who say that each is their main source of news is now roughly the same, but TV is still ahead in France, Germany and Poland. But in all cases, it is clear that many are now getting their news about the environment from the Internet.
MAIN SOURCE OF NEWS
This prompts us to further ask what online news sources people are using, particularly in light of the fact that the Internet is home to a number of popular non-traditional news brands. Though we do not have data on where people chose to get their news about the environment specifically, we do have data on what news sources people are using online more generally.
In the UK, over half of online news users access news from the BBC on a weekly basis, making it by far the most popular news brand online. But below this, we see that the Huffington Post is used by just under one-fifth, and among those with a high interest in news about the environment, is as popular as both the Guardian and MailOnline. BuzzFeed news is less popular, but among those with high interest in news about the environment is nonetheless as popular (if not more so) than Sky News and the Telegraph online. Vice News has a small reach, but online it is comparable to the Times due to the impact of their paywall.
MOST POPULAR NEWS BRANDS AMONG THOSE HIGHLY INTERESTED IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS – UK
The picture is similar in the US. Crucially, the Huffington Post is the most popular online news destination among those with a high level of interest in news about the environment; more popular than Yahoo, CNN and Fox online. This may be surprising, but the simple fact is that people tend to overestimate the online reach of traditional newspaper and TV brands, but underestimate the reach of some (but not all) new players. As is clear from the chart below, this is accentuated further when we consider those that are highly interested in news about the environment. BuzzFeed reaches as many as the New York Times and the Washington Post, but once again, Vice is smaller but comparable to some well-known newspaper brands.
MOST POPULAR NEWS BRANDS AMONG THOSE HIGHLY INTERESTED IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS – US
However, it should be acknowledged that new players like Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Vice, have a much smaller reach outside of the US and UK, despite now maintaining dedicated regional versions in some cases. On top of this, whereas it would appear that in the US and UK they have had some success in appealing to audiences that are interested in hard news topics, BuzzFeed in particular is still appears to be more associated with entertainment content in Spain, France, Germany, and Poland. Nonetheless, they still likely have a small but significant audience for their coverage of the environment.
Just under half say they are highly interested in news about the environment
We can also think about environmental news in relation to other news topics. When we do this, we that interest levels for environmental news are somewhere in the middle; in-between the related topics of politics and science and technology. Across all 26 countries, just under half (46%) of all respondents said that they are either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ interested in news about the environment. In general, more respondents said that they are interested in ‘hard’ news topics, with fewer reporting an interest in soft news topics like sport, arts, and celebrity.
EXTREMELY OR VERY INTERESTED IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS ACROSS 26 COUNTRIES
US, UK, and Scandinavia among the least interested
As implied by the earlier charts, interest in environmental news also varies from country to country. The majority in Brazil and Southern European countries are highly interested, but relatively few in Scandinavia, the US and the UK. Just one third (33%) in the UK are highly interested in news the environment. This is 14 percentage points lower than our population-weighted EU figure (based on 17 of the 28 countries within the EU, which together account for over 90% of the EU population) of 47%.
EXTREMELY OR VERY INTERESTED IN ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS BY COUNTRY
In many cases there is a strong correlation between interest in environmental news and interest in other news topics, or in news as a whole. People who are highly interested in one news topic, also tend to highly interested in other topics too. Nonetheless, interest in environmental news is distinct enough from other topics to warrant separate examination. If we assign a numerical value to each level of interest on the five-point scale used in our survey question, and then combine levels of interest in other hard news topics to compute an average score, and then compare this to the level of interest in environmental news, we can identify those countries where interest is particularly high (marked blue on the chart below) or particularly low (marked red). This reveals a pattern that broadly maps onto overall levels of interest, but does so in a more robust way because it effectively controls for that fact that some countries people are more interested in news generally. Looked at in this way, the US and the UK are the least interested in news about the environment, which is perhaps not surprising given that other studies have shown that they are among the least concerned about climate change. 2
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTEREST IN NEWS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND AVERAGE INTEREST IN OTHER HARD NEWS TOPICS
Interest levels linked to vulnerability to climate change
Many different factors are likely to influence levels of interest in environmental news. Even within our restricted sample of relatively affluent countries, we notice that average levels of interest in news about the environment correlate with measures of vulnerability to climate change. If we take our numerical interest levels and plot them against the Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN) 3 we see that countries that are comparatively more vulnerable to climate change – such as Turkey, Brazil, and Italy – tend to be more interested in environmental news, whereas less vulnerable countries – such as those in Scandinavia, the US and the UK – are less interested (r = -0.75).
THE EFFECT OF VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE ON LEVELS OF INTEREST IN NEWS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
Over the coming months the Reuters Institute will look in more detail at exactly how new players like Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Vice actually cover news about the environment. In what ways does their coverage differ from the legacy media? Do they tell these stories in different ways? Who do they chose to quote? Do they use more visuals? All of these factors in some way shape how their readers understand the issues. We will publish our detailed results from six countries (France, Germany, Poland, Spain, the UK and the USA) in December 2016.
- In Germany and Spain the base sizes for those on the right are small because many respondents declared themselves as “slightly right of centre”, which is considered centre in the above scheme, rather than “fairly right-wing” or “very right-wing”. However, if the seven-point political scale used in Q1F is treated as a continuous variable, the described relationship between politics and interest in news about the environment is robust. ↩
- Pew. (2015). Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions. Pew Research Centre. ↩
- http://index.gain.org ↩