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Portrayal of Engineers and Engineering in US Broadcast Network Television Evening News Media | Journal of Civil Engineering Education


Engineering and engineers are considered central to maintaining global competitiveness and the workforce needs of any nation. Media shapes public opinion, and the image of a profession can affect the way the public views that profession and professionals in the field. Very little research can be found which analyzes media portrayal of engineers and engineering to assess whether and how media influences people’s view of engineers and engineering. Two foundational research questions are addressed in this paper: (1) to what extent are engineers or engineering portrayed in broadcast network television evening news media? and (2) do these news outlets miss opportunities to identify and discuss engineering subjects and, subsequently, exclude engineers as experts? The conclusions are derived from data culled from 24 unique, randomly selected, and full episodes of evening news of three television broadcast networks in the United States yielding 257 individual news stories over the course of a year (2015) and the coverage of two significant disasters (2014 Oso landslide and 2015 Flint water crisis) with high relevance to civil engineering. The data reveal a nearly complete absence of engineers as experts and links to engineering concepts, with only one story mentioning the word “engineer.” The situation is further exacerbated as these evening news programs deemed it important to cover about 15% of the stories as they relate to topics and concepts within the purview of the field of engineering, but did not include voices of engineers or explicitly connect those topics to engineering, which the authors identified as the missed opportunities. The authors suggest investigating the reasons behind the near absence of engineering content and engineers as experts for future research studies, particularly in light of the observation that 19% of the analyzed news stories did feature speakers who were identified as an expert.

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