Forest Service Issues in the News

Overview

Forest Service Issues in the News is a Web-based system for monitoring the public discussion and debate expressed in the news media about policy issues. Users can view monthly and annual trends in the amount of news media discussion about these issues and the conflict associated with them, and they can point and click to view the full text of individual news stories for a particular day.

What Is It?

The more natural resource managers can learn about what the public thinks about issues impacting land management, the more effective they can be. Since it is well documented that the media both shapes and reflects public opinion, a potent way to gain insight into public attitudes and concerns is to analyze the content of news reporting. Monitoring the content of the news media allows users to take the pulse of ongoing public debate about important issues and to track changes in the debate over time. Forest Service Issues in the News is intended to be used by planners, managers, public affairs officers, communications officers, policy analysts, policymakers, and others for a wide range of applications, including:

  • identifying stakeholder concerns
  • designing effective communication strategies
  • assessing the extent to which Forest Service messages are being conveyed in news media stories
  • evaluating the response to new policies and programs and so on.

Policy Issues

Forest Service Issues in the News analyzes the content of thousands of news sources from across the U.S. regarding several key Forest Service issues, including:

  • Conflict is an index of expressions of conflict in the news media related to the other seven policy issues (Fuels Reduction, Healthy Forests, Invasives, Logging, Motorized Recreation, Planning Rule, and Roadless). Discussion of all types of conflict is included, such as expressions of general conflict (e.g., bickering, brouhaha, contentious), legal conflict (e.g., legal battle, sued, suit filed), acts of civil disobedience and illegal acts (e.g., blockade, eco-terrorism, tree spiking), name-calling (e.g., eco-freak, timber beasts, zealot), and expressions of anger and related emotions (e.g., animosity, bitterness, discontent). Details about the construction of this "conflict index" can be found in: Bengston, D.N. and D.P. Fan. 1999. Conflict over natural resource management: A social indicator based on analysis of online news media text. Society and Natural Resources 12: 493-500. This paper is available online as a PDF document.
  • Fuels Reduction captures news media discussion of hazardous fuels reduction and thinning. This includes discussion of forest conditions involving fuels buildup (e.g., fire hazard, overcrowded forests, overstocked) and fuels reduction efforts (e.g., fuels work, removing vegetation, thinning). Information about fire and fuels on the national forests can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/projects/four-threats/#fire.
  • Healthy Forests captures news media discussion of the Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003 and ongoing discussion of the implementation of HFRA. Information about the Healthy Forests Initiative and HFRA can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/projects/hfi/.
  • Invasives captures news media discussion of invasive species in the context of the Forest Service, including general discussion (e.g., aggressive weeds, alien species, aquatic weeds), terrestrial plants (e.g., buckthorn, Canada thistle, canary grass), terrestrial animals (e.g., Africanized honeybee, woolly adelgid, emerald ash borer), aquatic and wetland plants (e.g., milfoil, purple loosestrife, water chestnut), aquatic and wetland animals (e.g., alewife, Asian carp, Asian swamp eel), and microbes (e.g., blister rust, butternut canker, chestnut blight). Information about the Forest Service Invasive Species Research Program can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/invasivespecies/.
  • Logging captures news media discussion of timber and salvage harvest in the context of the Forest Service.
  • Motorized Recreation captures news media discussion of motorized recreation in the context of the Forest Service (e.g., ATV, dirt bikes, off-road vehicle). Information about the Forest Service Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Program can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/, and more information about the threat of unmanaged OHV use in national forests can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/projects/four-threats/#recreation.
  • Planning Rule captures news media discussion of the 2005 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) Planning Rule, which was rolled out in December 2004. Background information about the NFMA Planning Rule can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/index1.html and information about the 2005 NFMA Final Planning Rule can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/index2.html.
  • Roadless captures news media discussion of Forest Service roadless rule and road building. Information about roadless area conservation on the national forests can be found at http://roadless.fs.fed.us/.

Monthly Charts and Annual Trends for Forest Service Issues in the News

Each annual trend chart summarizes the news media discussion for one of the policy issues for the most recent 12 months. You can move from one annual chart to another by clicking on the list of policy issues on the left or right side of the Web page. Clicking on a particular month on an annual trend chart will take you to the corresponding monthly chart.

Strengths

  • The tool allows users to query data and allows visual analysis of data trends over time. Users can view news text directly from the online news sources by selecting features within the output graphics.

Limitations

  • Currently requires free SVG reader plug-in for Web browser. A new Adobe Flash-based version is in development (June 2007).

Expertise Needed

Knowledge of content analysis

Types of Data Needed

News media text data

How Do I Get It?

Forest Service Issues in the News is online at the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station at: http://ncrs.fs.fed.us/issues/default.asp

Related Tools

Tools that can be used with it (the results of one tool may feed the other - interoperability), might compliment it (though not dependent the tool may help understand another aspect), or may be similar (similar functions but maybe different costs, locations, etc..).

Related Methods

Content analysis, a type of secondary data analysis, is used to analyze text, including, interview transcripts, newspapers, books, manuscripts, and Web sites to determine the frequency of specific words or ideas.

Contact Information

  • David N. Bengston, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, St. Paul, MN
  • David P. Fan, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
  • Cindy Chojnacky, USDA Forest Service, Policy Analysis, Washington, DC

Resources

The tool is available on the Forest Service Issues in the News site. The site was developed by the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Social and Economic Dimensions of Ecosystem Management and InfoTrend, Inc.