Agenda Setting During the California Drought...

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Nuanced public responses to droughts and other chronic environmental crises reflect today’s increasingly complex communication ecosystem. At once global and infinitely customizable, this vast array of media and information channels requires existing theory to address the implications of interactions among social media, “traditional” mass media outlets, and information-seeking tools such as search engines. How do these channels intervene in public conversation? What might the agenda-setting perspective have to say? Data collected during peak years of the California drought, 2013-2015, indicate that California residents responded to worsening drought conditions Twitter first, which was the only media behavior directly stimulated by environmental stressors. Google searches stimulated newspaper coverage and Twitter activity, revealing the centrality of search behaviors in this environmental crisis. The findings suggest significant changes to the communication landscape as individual and collective users become increasingly dependent on non-mainstream media channels for information in chronic crisis situations.

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