Damming news: Geospatial media discourse analysis of dams


Dams are a globally important social-ecological issue, and the practice of removing aging or obsolete dams is increasing in many countries where rivers have been used to fuel industrial growth. News media play an important role in providing information and raising awareness about dam-related decision making and patterns in news media coverage can shape public sense-making about potentially controversial dam decisions. This research focuses on spatial patterns of news media references to “dam removal” georeferenced to a New England dams database, the types of dam removal characteristics that contribute to newsworthiness, and specific media framing strategies. We develop a method, known as DAMMDA, that combines a large geodatabase of dam features and corpus of news media articles. We find that spatial patterns of “dam removal” news media coverage do not necessarily coincide with the actual occurrence of removed dams, nor the distribution of extant dams, in the landscape. Instead, a minority of dams with specific characteristics make up the majority of dam media references. Such “newsworthy dams” are capable of generating hydroelectricity, are situated on large rivers, are located in urban areas, or have already been removed. Further, references to newsworthy dams are often used to frame discussions about future dam decisions in other locations in New England and across the United States. We conclude by reflecting on how this approach is relevant for understanding complex and interconnected factors that can shape controversial sustainability issues, such as the relationships between news media and social-ecological characteristics of infrastructures within landscapes.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Environmental Management



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type