Content analysis of articles on brown bears in the Slovenian press,1991-1998
Conflicts occur between human and brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Slovenia, as in most areas where the two coexist. From 1995 to 1998 Slovenia experienced a sharp increase in the depredation of domestic sheep and in 1996 an old man was badly mauled by a female bear with cubs. Bear managers and hunters alike had the impression that as a consequence of these problems, increasingly negative articles about bears were appearing in the press and creating a negative image of the bear. Using a content analysis approach, we investigated a total of 195 articles, of which 127 were from daily newspapers, 38 from weekly magazines and 38 from the monthly hunting magazine LOVEC, to test this assumption. We checked the overall attitude prevailing in each article, its main message, its characteristics, the number of sentences on certain topics and what information was given about bears. The analysis revealed that the most important topics covered in the daily press were the killing of problem bears, sheep depredation and the fear of bears. These topics were also important in the weekly press, but other topics were also of some relevance. Unlike those in the other papers, articles in the hunting magazine focused more on bear research, bear biology and bear conservation. Consequently, articles in the hunting magazine were the most positive about bears, while articles in the daily press were the most negative with articles in the weekly press somewhere in between. We did not find that the number of negative articles in the daily press increased from 1991 to 1998, nor that the focus of the articles changed towards more conflict-oriented issues. We found rather that the daily press has always been conflict-oriented and that the information provided about bears was rather slim, but mostly correct. Incorrect information about bear population size or sheep killed by bears tended to be underestimates and not, as expected, overestimates. Negative synonyms for the neutral words "bear" or "carnivore" were hardly used at all, but to our surprise positive synonyms were more likely to be found in negative articles than in positive ones. Negative articles were often more conspicuous because they tended to be located in the front section of the newspapers, with larger headings and more photographs-probably further reinforcing the impression of a largely negative coverage of the topic bear. Even though 55% of the locals claimed to get all or a part of their bear information from the newspaper, we did not see much of a relationship between the information provided in the national press and the overall knowledge level determined by a questionnaire survey in a previous study. However, given the great interest most Slovenians take in bear topics, bear managers should become active in providing national newspapers with sound information about bears and bear management to counteract the largely conflict-oriented press coverage.