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Wolf Story Time: Researchers Measure Views in MT News

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December 7, 2010

HELENA, Mont. - The news has been picked apart by a research team at Ohio State University that examined articles written about wolves over the past ten years, including stories in Montana. Study author Jeremy Bruskotter says the first thing to note is the sheer number of stories done about wolves, even though very few people have been directly affected by the animals. His team evaluated about 30,000 expressions about wolves found in thousands of news stories - separating the view statements from the stories' factual information.

"What's happening in the news media, is 72 percent of all the expressions, expressing a negative view of wolves. The most common view is that wolves negatively impact human activities."

The research also zeroed in on the news by geographic locations, and found that places with more wolves and more experience managing them have the fewest negative impressions featured in news articles.

"We saw the most negative attitude expressions in states with new wolf populations. They differed significantly from states with permanent wolf populations."

Bruskotter notes there are some who argue that the views contained in news stories mirror public opinion, but he points out that separate public opinion research doesn't support that claim. He believes no matter what the views portrayed in the news coverage, they affect public opinion. However, he predicts that over time, wolves will drop out of the headlines in states with newer wolf populations.

The research appears in the journal Human Dimensions of Wildlife; an abstract can be found at http://ht.ly/3kHmP.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT