A World War II Scale Effort: The Atlantic Monthly

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 a second analysis of The Atlantic Monthly, a monthly magazine of politics and culture.

Atlantic HeadersComparison of Coverage of WWII and Climate Change in
The Atlantic Monthly Magazine during 1942 and 2008/2009

By Catherine Barnao, Danielle Blackman, and Christopher Thiers

Summary of Findings:

Because of time restrictions, the 1942 issues of The Atlantic Monthly were divided up between two groups; we analyzed the July through December issues. However, like the earlier group, we analyzed a full twelve months from July of 2008 to June of 2009. Many changes have been made to The Atlantic Monthly’s formatting between 1942 and the present.  The current version of the magazine is both more organized and easier to understand, making it easier for us to pick out articles, editorials, reviews, etc.  The current version of the magazine no longer included a designated “fiction” section.  Also, the 1942 version of The Atlantic Monthly contained an entire section dedicated solely to coverage of World War II—the current magazine contains no such section on climate change.

World War II Climate Change
54% Articles 9%
31% Editorials 8%
42% Advertisements 29%
19% Reviews 32%
Essays (2008 only) 7%

Methods and Problems:

Our primary method was to count the different parts of the magazine and then to determine the fraction of the total dedicated to the issue on which we were focusing (i.e. World War II or climate change).  Whenever we had a problem determining whether the article pertained to the subject, we consulted one another and took a vote. Because it was only added late in the year, we chose not to count the special section dedicated solely to World War II—our percentages were derived solely from the actual magazine. It should also be noted that the run from July 2008 to June 2009 included only ten issues; Atlantic releases double issues for July/August and December/January.

Observations:

In the 2008/2009 issues of Atlantic, it was the advertisements that most frequently expressed “green” messages, which we counted as “about” climate change.  This did not surprise us, as being “green” has become an increasingly effective public relations tool for commercial industries.  Companies believe that portraying themselves as “environmentally friendly” will attract consumers.

One especially interesting WW II ad was for a coat. It featured a young boy and his mother. The coat was too large for the boy; the caption spoke to the mother: “Keep him warm because he will be fighting for us soon.” This exemplified the home-front for us, a mother and her son—instead of the complete family—shopping for a coat that the son could grow into, which would save money and materials for the war. The ad illustrated the extent to which the families left behind were willing to sacrifice for their soldiers.

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