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School of Environment and Natural Resources


TWEL Melanie Houston Thesis

A quantitative content analysis of attitude expressions toward wolves in the United States and Canadian print news media, 1999-2008
Melanie J. Houston, MS
Advisor: Jeremy T. Bruskotter
Several trends suggest public attitudes toward wildlife—especially charismatic species such as wolves—changed during the latter half of the 20th century. Increases in wildlife ballot initiatives, declining participation in hunting and changes in the how predators are portrayed in the media suggest a fundamental change in the way US residents feel about wildlife. Identifying how attitudes toward wildlife have changed over time is difficult given that attitudinal studies tend to be cross-sectional and focused on relatively small geopolitical units. The current body of literature on attitudes toward wolves is inconclusive; some researchers suggest attitudes towards wolves have become more positive due to increased knowledge of wolves’ role in ecosystems, while existing empirical research indicates attitudes toward wolves are generally stable. Quantitative content analysis of news media has emerged as an alternative method for measuring public attitudes and values and assessing attitude change. In this study, expressions of attitudes regarding wolves in US and Canadian print news media were analyzed over a 10-year time period. I used the LexisNexis Academic news database to identify stories written about wolves from 1999-2008. I limited my search to include only publications that were continuously available throughout this time period. I then developed a system of rules for classifying relevant paragraphs into positive-negative attitudinal expressions. My search identified 7,437 stories about wolves which were analyzed using the InfoTrend®, Inc. content analysis software. Results provided insights as to how attitudes toward wolves change over time. Specifically I found that attitude expressions have become significantly more negative over the ten-year time period and that there are regional differences in the attitude expression trends.