Why are We Acting Against the Pandemic, but Not Against the Climate Crisis?

“We must equip ourselves to understand how people react and take in information when something new, unknown, and dangerous hits us”, says professor Brita Ytre-Arne, head of the Norwegian-Danish interdisciplinary project Media Use in Crisis Situations (MUCS). According to her, it is a great paradox that we react so differently to the worldwide crises that the pandemic and the climate represent, and we believe that media use plays a major role here.

In the Media Use in Crisis Situations (MUCS) project, researchers from the University in Bergen in Norway (Bergen Media Use Research Group and the Centre for Climate and Energy Transition) and Roskilde University in Denmark aim to analyse how people in Norway face crises on a daily basis with an abundance of information in various media channels.

A development of Dano-Norwegian cooperation

The researchers already collaborate extensively through the Nordic Audience Research Network and a joint annual PhD course. With this project, they hope to develop their cooperation and network even further – including the project’s recruitment positions.

At Roskilde University, Jannie Møller Hartley will not only – with her experience in researching journalism and datafication with user perspectives – contribute to datafication, but will also host the project’s postdoc for a stay abroad in Denmark.

– Together with Møller Hartley, the postdoc, hired in Bergen, will work with datafication, Ytre-Arne says. The research stay abroad will naturally benefit the project, but also the postdoctoral researcher’s CV and international network.

Willingness to change

– We see during the pandemic that there is an enormous ability to adapt and to take the necessary steps. It is a great paradox that one does not have the same ability to act to stagnate the climate crisis. We believe that this is about how the crisis was experienced. When it comes to pace, closeness, and how the crisis affects our lives, we experience the pandemic differently than the climate crisis, says Ytre-Arne.

The project will focus on how one uses the media to connect to what is happening in the crisis situation. The Norwegian-led project uses Norway as their case, but the knowledge created is also relevant to other countries in the Nordic region.

– Both the pandemic and the climate crisis stand for threats to life and health, but there is a big difference in the relationship between crisis understanding, information gathering, and action. We see that the media are reasonably unambiguous in communication about the pandemic, and there are also numerous media reports that warn of the climate crisis, but we know little about how the information is interpreted, says Ytre-Arne.

Social media present challenges

Ytre-Arne emphasises that both traditional and new mediums play a crucial role in how experts and authorities communicate. In all crises, experts and authorities depend on communication that mobilises and gains trust, and new media technology both provides room for maneuver and poses problems.

– Editor-controlled journalism is important, but social media, smartphones, and digital platforms make it possible to communicate in a new way. At the same time, new media present many challenges when it comes to reaching out with the crisis message.

The proximity dimension is crucial in digital media, and it can often be more difficult to find out when it comes to the climate crisis than when it comes to the pandemic, she says.

Timeless knowledge of understanding crisis

Over the next four years, the project will interview people in Norway about media use, pandemics, and climate change. The researchers will conduct ethnographic studies in Norwegian local communities that are affected by the crises, and collaborate with key people in crisis and climate communication. Although the pandemic will hopefully be over in four years, the knowledge will not be outdated, says Ytre-Arne.

– It will take a long time to finish understanding the pandemic, and we will probably unfortunately face the climate crisis in the future. This is among the biggest, worldwide crises of our lifetime, and understanding how people absorb information is not out of date.

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MUCS – Media Use in Crisis Situations

Interdisciplinary researcher project between media sciences (UIB/Infomedia), social geography (UiB/CET) and journalism (RUC). The project is financed by the Research Council of Norway .
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This article was first produced and published by the University of Bergen, then translated and adapted for NordMedia Network.