Writing about coyote conflict can quickly become a practice in sensationalism, even for seasoned reporters. But if they’re aware of common issues, journalists can avoid such hyperbole – and perhaps the lethal consequences it leads to.
The Fur-Bearers have put together three tips for the media that can help keep the facts straight, and prevent unnecessarily frightening their audience when reporting on coyotes and coyote conflict:
- Sensationalism is measurable. A review of Canadian media that covered coyotes showed that sensationalism is very much real, and even measurable. Dr. Shelley Alexander’s 2012 study, Portrayal of Interactions Between Humans and Coyotes: Content Analysis of Canadian Print Media (1998-2010) found that the media showed “coyotes were portrayed as not natural in cities, as an invasive species, and more recently using language depicting criminal behaviour.” Additionally, the terminology used by media in reporting coyotes conflicting with people and pets was inflammatory, whereas the terms used when people killed coyotes were highly technical and unemotional. Remembering that the media has a clear pattern of behaviour to sensationalize in this way is a significant step in reporters ending such inappropriate coverage.
- Ask an expert. Understanding a coyote’s behaviour can be complex, and what may at first seem obvious can be far from the truth. For example, in this recent article, it is assumed that a coyote in a backyard was attempting to “lure” a pet. But there’s no actual evidence of that, other than a reasonably worried pet owner’s guess. From wildlife rehabilitators to researchers to non-profit advocacy organizations, there are many reliable and reputable people who can offer insight into a coyote’s behaviour for reporters.
- Consider the circumstances. In most cases of conflict that are investigated by The Fur-Bearers, Coyote Watch Canada, or even government officials, resources are the root cause. It’s important that this be considered any time conflict is reported, particularly the possibility of food being offered intentionally or unintentionally in the neighbourhood, or any construction or development in the region. Frequently, development of new human spaces a few kilometres away are ignored, when that kind of change can have far-reaching implications for ecosystems and the wildlife that inhabit them. Look around and consider what human-caused changes or factors may have influenced the conflict – and if you don’t see any, ask for help in identifying them.
Sensationalised or inaccurate reporting on wildlife can lead to dire consequences – from heightened public fear, to outright poor policy such as culls or killing contests. Journalists interested in learning more about how their reporting impacts wildlife and other animals are encouraged to view a recording of our webinar, ‘Wild Media: Sensationalism, Critical Thinking, and Modern Media’, and visit the outstanding resources AnimalsandMedia.org.
Building safe communities where essential wildlife like coyotes and people can co-exist is everyone’s responsibility: including the local media we trust to provide us with reliable information.