Our research

Decades of media research have shown that the way an issue is reported can drastically impact the way the public perceives its risk and importance. For this research, we first conducted a content analysis of energy reporting from the last 30 years to see how previous journalists had framed important energy issues. We discovered that articles tended to be one of three types: policy, science, or human interest.

Read our final paper.

With these frames in mind, graduate students reporting in our Washington and Chicago newsrooms produced a series of stories, retelling each of them in varied formats. We are testing these stories on an online audience to measure story engagement and learning. What kinds of reporting lead to the greatest audience engagement? What types of stories lead the audience to learn and retain the most information? We want to use these results to help journalists better connect issues of policy, science, and human interest in order to connect with audiences, increase awareness, and engagement.

For more information, please contact Abigail Foerstner (a-foerstner@northwestern.edu), Ashlee Humphreys (a-humphreys@northwestern.edu) or Ellen Shearer (shearer@northwestern.edu).

Our project

This research and reporting initiative conducted by the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and funded by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation aims to improve Americans’ understanding of energy issues by improving reporting on these crucial issues. The goal is to make energy information more accessible to general audiences and close the information gap between science and policy.

A content analysis of thousands of news stories provided a summary and assessment of existing U.S. media coverage of energy issues and identified ways to better explain what’s a stake for energy consumers. The content analysis preceded a reporting initiative in which 12 graduate student reporters traveled to small towns and boom towns that crystallize national energy issues. A program to test results of story impact will provide multi-faceted research for a white paper. The content analysis, reporting project and research will culminate in a Washington roundtable featuring key energy reporters, scientists and policymakers.


  • Closing the reporting gap between science and policy on energy issues.
  • Analyzing current coverage of energy issues.
  • A reporting initiative and audience research to identify best practices for accurate, accessible
    coverage of energy issues.
  • A white paper covering research, reporting initiative and findings.
  • A Washington roundtable to promote discussion of media coverage of energy issues.

The reporting project is being led by Medill Assistant Professor Abigail Foerstner and Professor Ellen Shearer. The content analysis and focus group research based on the stories in the reporting project is being led by Medill Assistant Professor Ashlee Humphreys. All three will collaborate to produce a white paper analyzing the findings of the research and suggesting ways for the news media to better engage the public in energy news and to better inform them about the issues and their impact on Americans’ lives.

For more information, please contact Abigail Foerstner (a-foerstner@northwestern.edu), Ashlee Humphreys (a-humphreys@northwestern.edu) or Ellen Shearer (shearer@northwestern.edu).

Our reporters

Ali Durkin is a public affairs reporting concentration student in graduate program of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. Prior to Medill, she interned at WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. She’s a Chicago native who graduated with a degree in English from the University of Notre Dame in May 2011.
Kalle Eko is an energy reporter in Medill’s graduate program and a visual storyteller, focusing on minority populations in the United States through his photo blog and Instagram. In 2011, he published The Sudan Project, a critically acclaimed multimedia array of personal stories of Sudanese Americans that was featured on Iowa Public Radio. He has served as the first social media graduate fellow in the Office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and is a graduate of Princeton University.
Carly Helfand grew up in the Chicagoland area. She earned her B.A. in art history from Tufts University, where she was also the executive editor of the college paper’s sports department. After graduation, Carly spent two years teaching English in Prague before enrolling in the Medill graduate program, where she has covered the pharmaceuticals industry and energy.
David Kashi attended the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel where he received his B.A in Government Diplomacy and Strategy, majoring in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security and International Affairs, before enrolling in Medill’s graduate program.
Erin Massey is a health and science reporter in the Medill graduate program and plans to begin her career reporting stories on science related issues. She was both a personal trainer and aerobics instructor for a number of years and interned for her church in both Chicago and Milwaukee. She has participated in several volunteer events for Hope Worldwide, service that included cleaning lots in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Nonfiction Creative Writing and a minor in Spanish. She has interned with the On-Air Promotions Department at WCIU, Channel 26.
Gloria Oh is a health and science reporter in Medill’s graduate program, with a focus in video and broadcasting. She has reported on food security and genetics at Medill and she is working on a documentary about a local grass-fed beef company in Chicago. She graduated from the College of William and Mary.
Lorena Villa Parkman is an interactive publishing student in the graduate program at Medill. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications from UNAM in Mexico City. She has worked for the former Mexico City newspaper El Centro, Morelia International Film Festival, La Tempestad ( a Mexican contemporary arts magazine ) and the Spanish language U.S.-based newspaper Hoy.
Ian Sawicki is from St. Louis, Mo., and graduated from De Paul University in Chicago. His focus at Medill is business reporting. Before starting in the Medill graduate program, he served with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic working as an English teacher and a community development coordinator.
Meghan Schiller is a video concentration graduate student at Medill. She is a multimedia journalist and aspiring host with more than two years of broadcasting experience, having interned at Narrative Science in Chicago and KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, where she worked for the morning show “Pittsburgh Today Live.” Prior to her transition into journalism, she spent her time on the stage and majored in Opera Performance and English at Carnegie Mellon University.
Lacy Schley is a native of Virginia and graduated from Randolph-Macon College in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. While there, she conducted several research experiments in both social and cognitive psychology and was a member of the national co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. She is a health and science concentration student at Medill.
Yue Wang is a reporting concentration student in the Medill graduate program, focusing on environmental issues. A native of Beijing and a graduate of law at Beijing Foreign Studies University, she interned for Xinhua State News Agency and General Electronics.
Lisa Weidenfeld has reported on both the arts and technology. Prior to entrolling in the Medill graduate program, she worked in publishing for four years in print production and project management. She attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and graduated cum laude with a degree in English.

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