Politics, the Environment, and Agenda Setting

An importan aspect of politics is the way in which agendas are set.  How does one issue gain national attention while another, perhaps equally as important, never sees the light of day?

In NPR’s article, Focus On Fracking Diverts Attention From Horizontal Drilling, author Jeff Brandy discusses why two very similar issues don’t receive the same amount of political attention.

While fracking and horizontal drilling have a very similar negative impact on the environment (and horizontal drilling perhaps even more so in that its radius can extend for miles while fracking only extends 100 feet), it is fracking that makes the news.  It is fracking that has protestors hitting the streets and songs gracing late night television.

Brandy’s article attempts to introduce horizontal drilling as an equally important and relevant issue.  Is he successful?  Can it be argued that news articles like this are what draw attention to related issues already considered politically important? Is the goal of the article to inform about horizontal drilling or just point out its lack of coverage?  Can pointing out a lack of coverage be enough to raise public and political interest?

Not only does Brandy attempt to introduce horizontal drilling as an issue that deserves attention, but he also points to the phenomenon of why one topic receives political attention while another, so similar, does not.  Are there other reasons that Brandy did not suggest?  Is his reasoning one sided?  Is it important that we frame environmental issues in a specific way to make them politically relevant to the general public?  Does the term ‘fracking’ seem like sensationalization of an issue?  Is sensationalization necessary to gaining political attention?  And finally, as journalists how do we make an issue seem politically worthy?


7 Responses to “Politics, the Environment, and Agenda Setting”

  1. Chelsea:
    You pose great questions on what has become a political hot potato. Students, in addition to the questions Chelsea asks about the way this subject was tackled, I’d like to hear your comments on story structure that Emilia discussed in class last week. How effective was the lede, nut graph, quotes and overall organization of the piece? What are your suggestions for improving the writing in this piece? Evaluating those elements will also help you improve your own writing.

  2. I think that its very interesting that people have singled out the word “frack” as a large part of why fracking is such an issue of fixation by the media. Furthermore, Brady discusses how some people have come to appropriate the meaning of “fracking” to include a broader range of resource extraction schemes. As a result, horizontal drilling is lumped together with fracking, which is confusing but convenient during a protest of the general public. Because Brady points out that people often lump these definitions together, I don’t think he’s as successful at pointing out that horizontal drilling is an under-represented issue, but that its actually misnomer-ed either due to convenience or misunderstandings. How this article is successful is by clearing up this confusion for people less informed on the anti-fracking movements, or possibly energy extraction in general.

    The appropriation of the word “fracking” is a great example of how humans like their news sensationalized. In its own right, the common use of the word “frack” has connotations of controversy, which usually is successful in drawing people in. It seems understandable why this issue would be covered more widely, and even used in political agendas, as opposed to a word that sounds more science-y, like horizontal drilling.

  3. In regards to the writing of the piece, I feel that it was well done if we agree that the purpose was merely to expose the issue of horizontal drilling being ignored due to attention on fracking. The lede provides all of the initial information needed to draw you in and make you want to read more. However, I feel that the nut graph is somewhat lacking. I would have re-organized it to give more emphasis on horizontal drilling at the beginning, and then compare it to fracking after. Even while the journalist is trying to make a point that horizontal drilling should be put first ahead of fracking in the media, he is putting fracking first in his own article.

    As far as whether or not the journalist has accomplished his purpose with this piece, I believe that he has. He wanted to bring awareness to the lack of coverage on horizontal drilling. While he did not provide a ton of information on horizontal drilling, he has at least succeeded in showing why it is important to consider it as well as fracking. Even just realizing that there is an issue and publishing that there is an issue can bring awareness to the issue.

  4. Brandy’s article certainly raised my consciousness about how horizontal drilling is more hazardous to the environment than fracking. I like that he pointed out the fact that many people are drawn to the word itself, “fracking,” which makes out public knowledge to be lacking in the entire story. In my opinion, he does do a good job of explaining the issue, but I feel as though his attribution to the word itself is a little heavy. Brandy here focuses on the lack of coverage given to horizontal drilling, since the article is rather short and presents itself as an overview. Readers can inform themselves on horizontal drilling through other, more in-depth articles elsewhere.
    Perhaps drillers are using some of their influence to control the discourse on how the media reports it. The framing of environmental issues does create political relevance to the general public, and fracking has the perfect frame for an easy, dirty buzzword as the NPR article suggests. Fracking itself sounds sensationalized, which is why horizontal drilling isn’t being talked about as much. Sensationalization is somewhat necessary to gain political attention, because if a large amount of attention is not being drawn to an issue, few people will know about it and little will be done to fix it.
    As journalists, making an issue seem politically worthy is about presenting consequences and facts in a way that instills some fear or passion into readers in order to make a change, politically or socially. After reading Brandy’s article, someone could be inspired to write to their legislature or learn more about the issue in other media.
    Brandy’s lede was effective and comparing the two issues, it drew me in to want to continue on. The nut graph, too, quickly went over the main facts before explaining them further in the piece. I felt as though the SNL plug was an excellent example of how fracking has been receiving much more media attention than horizontal drilling. Obviously, the best quote was the “F-C-K” one from Chris Tucker, and definitely made me remember how fracking is being covered more than its counterpart. Perhaps to improve the writing of the piece, Brandy could have consulted real people about their knowledge on the differences between the two different issues.

  5. The piece could be improved by more thoroughly exploring the implications of sensationalized news near the end of the piece. What else does the public not fully understand simply because the topic is considered difficult to explain? Are protestors against fracking, now considered a catch-all term for oil production, able to address and solve real issues> Or has the broad definition and sensationalized taglines only brought attention to a portion of a larger problem? These are the unanswered questions that I still had after reading the article.

  6. The article does do a good job of bring up the effect of the word “fracking” itself, but the section headed Environmental Consequences seems to have relatively little to do with environmental consequences. The section instead gives of rough explanation of the technique and references a few movies, which seems a weak way to handle it. I’d rather see a more thorough explanation of the differences in impact, or at least a link to a study that does such.

  7. The article does a good job explaining why the term fracking has blown up and been sensationalized by the media and society – basically based on the word itself. This makes a lot of sense and I’d questioned the term myself. However, the article did not do a great job explaining the consequences of horizontal drilling, or of fracking. It said that horizontal drilling is just as consequential as fracking, but it definitely could have gone into greater depth on the subject to really persuade the reader that this is so.

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