A World War II Scale Effort: TIME Magazine

What level of public attention is required for the “WWII-scale effort” urged by Thomas Friedman and others? To provide a provisional answer to this question, GW students in Professor Svoboda’s UW-20 classes examined ten magazines published during WWII and still in print today. They compared each magazine’s coverage of WWII during 1942 with its coverage of climate change from July 2008 to June 2009 . Up to 12 issues were examined for each period. (See a more detailed overview of the project here.) Today we present the first of two groups’ reports on the newsweekly TIME.

Time Header 1b

Time Mag 1Comparison of Coverage of WWII and Climate Change in
Time Magazine during 1942 and 2008/2009

By Alex Alvendia, Joe Hughes, Elisa Rosoff

Our group analyzed TIME‘s coverage of WWII in 1942 and climate change in 2008/2009.

To analyze the coverage of WWII, our group decided to focus on the featured articles on all pages between the index and the business and finance section. Using microfiche, we were able to scan through the magazine, take a tally of total articles, and note the number that dealt with WWII. We determined whether an article was about WWII by using a group of keywords.

For TIME’s coverage of climate change from July 2008 to June 2009, we modified our approach slightly to conform to the modern layout of the magazine. We chose three sections that made up the majority of the magazine: “Briefing,” “The Well,” and “Life.” We used keywords to identify whether an article was dealing with climate change or not, as we had previously done with WWII articles. For the 2008/09 issues, we were able to include a tally of the editorials and ads. Due to the extra labor involved in working with microfiche, we were unable to take a tally of editorials and ads in the 1942 issues of TIME.

Sixty-two percent of the featured articles tallied from the 1942 editions of TIME dealt directly with WWII. We observed that the majority of articles not dealing with WWII were in sections such as “sport” and “art.” In each issue we picked the third featured article as a “test case” to check our observations about the coverage of WWII. Of the six test cases, five directly addressed WWII.

In the 2008/2009 issues of TIME that we analyzed, only six percent of featured articles dealt with climate change. We were also able to tally the editorials and the advertisements. None of the editorials were about climate change, while eleven percent of the ads were. None of the “test case” articles we selected were about climate change. We speculated that because 2008 was an election year, coverage of that topic dominated every issue.

When we compared the coverage of WWII and climate change, we were not surprised by the results. WWII impacted lives very directly; people wanted an abundance of information about it. Climate change, while it does have a significant impact on humanity, is a long term and hard-to-witness phenomenon. You can see this difference in the formatting; the 1942 TIME magazine had several sections dedicated to war-related issues, while the 2008/2009 magazine does not have a single section, let alone multiple sections, dedicated to climate change.

In order to mobilize the public against climate change, a WWII-scale effort is required. As during WWII, contemporary publications must include a high volume and frequency of articles on climate change, its impacts, and its solutions. A key component of changing perceptions toward climate change must come in the form of communication. In order to garner the necessary support for fighting climate change, the scientific community must translate their scientific findings into a language that the average citizen can understand. It is our hope that when students like us review TIME magazine in 2013, they will find that a larger percentage of the publication is devoted to climate change.


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