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Melanie Waltinger


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The research focus in this field is on public communication about aspects and issues addressed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals formulated by the United Nations. Based on our understanding of the sustainability concept, we have focused our research on environmental communication and the associated challenges for politics and society. Therefore, our research primarily investigates those goals that are linked to ecological problems. In addition to conceptual work that discusses how the topic of sustainability should and can be examined from the point of view of communication science, especially the research topics climate communication and energy communication have been dealt with to date. However, other aspects of environmental communication have also been addressed. Pilot projects focusing the communication on social justice have been initiated.

Fundamentals of sustainability communication

Fundamentals of sustainability communication

Persons in Charge: Jens Wolling
Period: 2017 up to now

Sustainability communication is proposed as an analytical concept for environmental communication research. In order to develop an analytical framework based on the concept of sustainability, different levels of observation and communication are distinguished. This framework allows to structure the research field and to develop a category system that can be used for the systematic analysis of research on environmental communication.

Hoppe, Imke & Wolling, Jens (2017): Nachhaltigkeitskommunikation. In: Bonfadelli, Heinz; Fähnrich, Birte; Lüthje, Corinna; Milde, Jutta; Rhomberg, Markus & Schäfer, Mike S. (Hrsg.): Forschungsfeld Wissenschaftskommunikation. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 339-354

Climate communication

Persons in Charge: Jens Wolling / Marius Becker / Mira Rochyadi-Reetz
Project Period: 2009 up to now

Climate change is a fundamental threat for present and future generations. The issue started as merely scientific problem but transformed into a mega-issue that is interconnected with ecological, economic, technological, political, and social aspects. Therefore research on climate change communication needs to address a broad range of perspectives, including all phases of the communication process, comparative perspectives (temporal and spatial) and requires a broad range of methodological approaches. In the last years we addressed three research fields: the coverage of climate change and climate policy in the media, approaches and strategies to encourage climate action, and networks of climate change deniers.

fotos: Jens Wolling

a) The coverage of climate change and climate policy in the media
The media provide information and offer interpretation on the issue of climate change. They define how to understand the problem and explain its causes and consequences. Furthermore they discuss responsibilities and communicate solutions and they inform the public and decision makers about public opinion on the issue. Therefore it is highly relevant to know and understand how the issue is covered and framed by the media. The media coverage is analyzed in several projects and influencing factors are investigated.

As climate change is a global issue but the effects and responsibilities differ between regions and nations it is important to compare the coverage between countries. Thus, a current research project is dealing with content analysis of media coverage on climate change in 10 countries. Additionally, contextual factors influencing how the media deal with the issue are investigated. A publication is forthcoming.

Since climate change is a highly contested issue, many actors with different interests strive to make their voices more salient in the media. In her dissertation project, Mira Rochyadi-Reetz is investigating the frame building process on the issue of climate change in Indonesia. As a developing country in the global South, Indonesia is strongly impacted by the effect of climate change but at the same time the country is highly dependent on fossil energy and promotes deforestation to boost its economic development.

On the occasion of the World Climate Conference 2009 in Copenhagen (COP 15), a standardized content analysis of reporting in German print media was carried out. It is argued that COPs as communication events can contribute to political agreement and support of measures against climate change if the media cover it appropriately. In the empirical part of the paper it was examined, to what extent the coverage of the World Climate Conference actually corresponds to the criteria and requirements previously elaborated (Arlt & Wolling 2012). In addition, an overview article was published summarizing the research on climate conferences as (political) communication events (Wolling & Arlt 2017).

Lena Birkenfeld conducted a comparative content analysis of German and Australian climate reporting as part of her doctoral project. It is examined which frames can be found in the reporting of the two countries and whether these frames differ in connection with external events like flood catastrophes and parliamentary elections. Furthermore it is investigated how the differences in coverage can be explained by contextual factors of the two countries. A publication is forthcoming.

Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (2017): Media Coverage on International Climate Summits and Negotiations. In: Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Science, Oxford University Press: 1-26, DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.362

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2012): Die Presseberichterstattung über die Weltklimakonferenz in Kopenhagen. Normative Anforderungen und empirische Befunde. In: SCM Studies in Communication | Media 1(2), 283-297 (auch online verfügbar - URL:

b) Encouraging climate action
Climate change is often associated with disaster images, failed political negotiations and negative headlines. From the perspective of reception and impact research, the question arises as to whether such media content contributes to people acting consciously regarding climate change.

Proximity is recognized as an important aspect of effective climate communication. Following this idea we developed a communication concept for the Hessische Landesenergieagentur (LEA). Based on the analysis of the argumentation of climate change deniers, we propose a concept providing local information, arguments and communication guidelines to facilitate effective, encouraging communication with the public.

A second research project analyzed climate communication on Instagram and identified a visual frame which combines threat and humor as the most effective message for attracting user attention and engagement. Utilizing humor to address a grave topic like climate change seems counterintuitive, but humorous pictures appear to be well received online. This raises questions about the perception of these images and peoples’ (online) interactions with them. The role of humor is examined more closely in an online experiment concerning the perception of different kinds of humor. Publications are forthcoming.

In her dissertation project, Imke Hoppe used the example of an online game on the subject of energy saving to investigate the characteristics that such a game should have in order to promote climate-conscious action. Her theoretical approach is based on 'action orientation', which comes from sustainability communication and teaching and learning research, as well as on drama theory ('dramaturgy research'). Her dissertation (Hoppe 2016) was published in the Open Access book series NEU-Kommunikation.

The first project by the research group in this field examined the influence of individual media use on climate-related problem awareness and intentions for action. The data for this study came from a representative panel survey of the German population conducted in 2007 as part of the DFG project "Political Online Communication" (Arlt, Hoppe & Wolling 2010, 2011).

Hoppe, Imke (2016): Klimaschutz als Medienwirkung. Eine kommunikationswissenschaftliche Studie zur Konzeption, Rezeption und Wirkung eines Online-Spiels zum Stromsparen. Ilmenau

Arlt, Dorothee; Hoppe, Imke & Wolling, Jens (2011): Climate change and media usage: Effects on problem awareness and behavioural intentions. In: The International Communication Gazette 73 (1-2): 45–63 Arlt, Dorothee; Hoppe, Imke & Wolling, Jens (2010): Klimawandel und Mediennutzung. Wirkungen auf Problembewusstsein und Handlungsabsichten. In: Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft 58 (1): 3-25.

c) The network of climate change deniers
Together with Emese Domahidi and Waqas Ejaz a Twitter network of climate change deniers was analyzed. Results of the project were already presented in K3 in Karlsruhe. A publication is forthcoming

Energy communication

Energy communication

Persons in Charge: Jens Wolling / Mira Rochyadi-Reetz
Project Period: 2009 up to now

The “Energiewende” in media coverage and citizen attitudes
As part of the interdisciplinary RESIDENS research project (funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture from 2009 to 2012), the research group has investigated the social conditions for the increased use of renewable energies. Several content analyses focused on how the media present the energy system transformation and smart metering. In addition, a three-wave representative panel survey was conducted to find out which media the Thuringians used to inform themselves about energy issues and what effect this media use had on energy-related behavior, and on citizens' attitudes towards solar and wind energy, pumped storage plants, grid expansion and smart meter technology.

Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (2015): Informieren und framen. Zum Einfluss der Medienberichterstattung auf Vorstellungen und Einstellungen zur Energiewende in Deutschland. In: Schäfer, Mike S.; Kristiansen, Silje & Bonfadelli, Heinz (Hrsg.): Wissenschaftskommunikation im Wandel. Köln: Herbert von Halem, 288-314

Porten-Cheé, Pablo; Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2013): Informationssuche zwischen Energiepolitik und Energiespartipps. Einstellungs-Verhaltens-Relationen als Erklärungsfaktoren der aktiven Suche nach energiebezogenen Informationen. In: Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 61 (2), 183-201.

Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (2013): Smart Metering in den Medien und im Urteil der Öffentlichkeit. In: Westermann, Dirk; Döring, Nicola & Brettschneider, Peter (Hrsg.): Smart Metering. Zwischen technischer Herausforderung und gesellschaftlicher Akzeptanz – Interdisziplinärer Status Quo. Ilmenau: Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, 17-60

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2012): Nachhaltige Energieversorgung aus der Sicht der Bürger. Eine repräsentative Panel-Befragung aus den Jahren 2009, 2010 und 2011. In: Tagungsband des Power and Energy Student Summit 2012, Ilmenau 19.-20. Januar 2012, 81-83 (URL:

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2011): Energiebewusstsein 2011. Ergebnisse einer repräsentativen Bevölkerungsumfrage in Thüringen zu energiebezogenen Einstellungen und Verhaltensweisen. Ilmenau (auch online verfügbar im Internet: URL:

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2011): Energiebewusstsein 2010. Ergebnisse einer repräsentativen Bevölkerungsumfrage in Thüringen zu energiebezogenen Einstellungen und Verhaltensweisen. Ilmenau (auch online verfügbar im Internet: URL:

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2010): Energiebewusstsein 2009. Ergebnisse einer repräsentativen Bevölkerungsumfrage in Thüringen zu energiebezogenen Einstellungen und Verhaltensweisen. Ilmenau (auch online verfügbar im Internet: URL:

Communication Strategies of Local Environmental Initiatives
In recent years, the expansion of the German high voltage grid has led to protests in many of the affected regions. In most cases, citizens' initiatives are the main supporters of these protests. How these initiatives organize the protest, what self-image they have and what factors influence their protest activities was investigated in the DFG-funded project "Communication Strategies of Local Environmental Initiatives" by Marco Bräuer.

Since the communication activities of citizens' initiatives have so far hardly been the subject of empirical research, a total of eight case studies with citizens' initiatives were carried out. The results show that citizens' initiatives carefully observe the political and media discourse as well as the reactions they receive from the population. Building on this, they actively develop problem interpretations and proposed solutions, which they communicate to the public in different arenas.

By analyzing the protesters' motivation, their views on the conflict and on the other conflict actors, as well as through a detailed analysis of the communication activities of the citizens' initiatives, the results of the study will contribute to the improvement of communication and participation in the context of network expansion.

The dissertation (Bräuer 2017) was published in the Open Access book series NEU-Kommunikation.

Bräuer, Marco & Wolling, Jens (2018): Protest or collaboration? How perceived opportunities and constrains shape the activities of antiinfrastructure citizen action groups. In: Wimmer, Jeffrey; Wallner, Cornelia; Winter, Rainer & Oelsner, Karoline (Hrsg.): (Mis)understanding political participation. Digital practices, new forms of participation and the renewal of democracy. New York, London, Routledge: 196-212.

Bräuer, Marco (2017): Energiewende und Bürgerproteste. Eine Untersuchung der Kommunikation von Bürgerinitiativen im Themenfeld Netzausbau. Ilmenau, Universitätsverlag Ilmenau.

Bräuer, Marco & Wolling, Jens (2015): Protest oder Partizipation? Die Rolle der Bürgerinitiativen im Themenfeld Netzausbau. In: Bundesnetzagentur (Hrsg.): Wissenschaftsdialog 2015. Wissenschaft und Technologie, Kommunikation und Planung. Bonn, 90-103. URL:

Bräuer, Marco & Wolling, Jens (2014): Regionaler Protest und Massenmedien: Die Bedeutung von Massenmedien aus der Sicht von Bürgerinitiativen. In: Oehmer, Franziska (Hrsg.): Politische Interessenvermittlung und Medien. Funktionen, Formen und Folgen medialer Kommunikation von Parteien, Verbänden und sozialen Bewegungen. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 358-377

Wolling, Jens & Bräuer, Marco (2010): Bürgerinitiativen: Ihre Funktion aus Sicht der Bevölkerung und ihre kommunikativen Aktivitäten. Ilmenau (online verfügbar im Internet: URL:

Fukushima and its consequences
A total of three investigations have been carried out in this field, dealing with different social effects of the 2011 power plant disaster in Fukushima. It was examined how the events in Japan were reported in different countries. In addition, it was analyzed how the disaster affected the reporting on renewable energies and what influence the reporting had on the attitudes of citizens towards nuclear power. The results of these projects have been published in the second volume of the book series NEU-Kommunikation together with 10 further articles on the issue authored by researchers from other universities and research groups. In-depth analyses of two projects have also been published as journal articles.

In an international comparative study, the emotionality of the reporting in the first 14 days after the disaster was analyzed with the help of computer-aided, text-linguistic methods. Print media from Great Britain, the USA and Germany were compared. It was found that in the two English-speaking countries the emotions of fear, anxiety and sadness played a greater role, while in Germany anger and rage were much more pronounced (Zeller, Arlt & Wolling 2014).

In a second international comparative study, reporting on renewable energies in eleven countries from different parts of the world was examined. The study focused on the question of whether the events in Fukushima changed the framing of these forms of energy production and whether the reporting and its change can be explained by contextual factors in the examined countries. Overall, the results suggest that the reporting of the national media is influenced by the conditions of the established energy supply system. Even the reactor disaster at Fukushima did not challenge these established patterns of thinking (Bräuer & Wolling 2014; Rochyadi-Reetz, Arlt, Wolling & Bräuer 2019)

In a third study, a panel survey was used to identify attitudinal effects of Fukushima reporting at the personal level. Weak but significant changes in attitudes from 2010 to 2011 were identified. The risk of nuclear power was estimated to be higher in 2011 and renewable energies were assessed more positively. The strength of the attitude changes was largely independent of personal characteristics or the intensity of media use (Arl & Wolling 2014, 2016).

Rochyadi-Reetz, Mira, Arlt, Dorothee, Wolling, Jens & Bräuer, Marco (2019): Explaining the Media's Framing of Renewable Energies: An International Comparison. In: Frontiers in Environmental Science, 7 (119), 1-12. doi:10.3389/fenvs.2019.00119

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2016): Fukushima effects in Germany? Changes in media coverage and public opinion on nuclear power. In: Public Understanding of Science 25 (7), 842-857, doi: 10.1177/0963662515589276

Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (2014): Ein Erdbeben und seine (politischen) Folgen. In: Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (Hrsg.): Fukushima und die Folgen – Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung, Politische Konsequenzen. Ilmenau: Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, 9-27

Zeller, Frauke; Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2014): Emotionalisierte Berichterstattung? Wie die Presse in Großbritannien, den USA und Deutschland über die Folgen des Erdbebens und des Tsunamis in Japan berichtete. In: Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (Hrsg.): Fukushima und die Folgen – Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung, Politische Konsequenzen. Ilmenau: Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, 183-209

Bräuer, Marco & Wolling, Jens (2014): Veränderungen durch Fukushima? Die Medienberichterstattung über erneuerbare Energien im internationalen Vergleich. In: Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (Hrsg.): Fukushima und die Folgen – Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung, Politische Konsequenzen. Ilmenau: Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, 233-264

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2014): Fukushima-Effekte in Deutschland? Die Reaktorkatastrophe als Ursache von Veränderungen in der Berichterstattung und in der öffentlichen Meinung über die Atomenergie. In: Wolling, Jens & Arlt, Dorothee (Hrsg.): Fukushima und die Folgen – Medienberichterstattung, Öffentliche Meinung, Politische Konsequenzen. Ilmenau: Universitätsverlag Ilmenau, 269-296

Arlt, Dorothee & Wolling, Jens (2011): Kernenergie: Einstellungen der Thüringer Bürger vor und nach Fukushima. In: Energiewirtschaftliche Tagesfragen (12), 46-49.

The influence of media communication on attitudes towards nuclear power
In her dissertation project Dorothee Arlt investigated the influence of individual media use on attitudes towards nuclear power using the example of the planned extension of the operating time of German nuclear power plants in 2010. The study was conducted in a two-method design. In a representative telephone survey, the attitudes and media usage behavior of Thuringians were surveyed. In a quantitative content analysis of media reports the arguments for or against an extension of the operating time were coded. The data from the survey and content analysis were directly linked at individual data level in order to investigate the influence of reporting on attitudes towards nuclear power. The dissertation was the first publication of the book series NEU-Kommunikation.

Arlt, Dorothee (2013): Laufzeitverlängerung von Atomkraftwerken – Nein, Danke!? Der Einfluss medialer Kommunikation auf Einstellungen zur Atomkraft. In: Wolling, J., Bonfadelli, H., Schäfer, M. S. & O. Quiring (Hrsg.): Nachhaltigkeits-, Energie-, und Umweltkommunikation (Band 1). Ilmenau: Univ.-Verl. Ilmenau.

Metastudy on characteristics of overhead lines and underground cables In cooperation with the Department of Electrical Energy Supply (Prof. Westermann), a metastudy of European scientific investigations and project studies was carried out on behalf of the Swiss transmission grid operator Swissgrid. These studies examine the suitability of overhead lines and underground cables in connection with grid expansion projects. The Research Group EMPK was responsible for the analysis of the non-technical, social and environmental aspects covered in the research reports.

Novitskiy, A., Arlt, D., Wolling, J. & D. Westermann (Hrsg.) (2012): Freileitungen oder Erdkabelleitungen? Eine Metastudie über die Kriterien und Ergebnisse von Untersuchungen zum Netzausbau. Ilmenau: Univ.-Verl. Ilmenau (Download link to DBT)

Environmental communication

Environmental communication

In addition to the focus on climate change and energy communication, the department also deals with questions of environmental communication in general. Two research questions are addressed:

How is reporting on environmental subtopics developing? Which events and news factors drive media attention and public concern on environmental subtopics?

Under what conditions and by what means can communication/reporting on environmental problems and/or environmental protection influence citizens' knowledge, attitudes and actions?

So far, the following contributions have been published in this field of research:

Wolling, Jens (2016): Environmental Crises and the Public: Media Audiences in the Context of Environmental and Natural Threats and Disasters. In: Schwarz, Andreas; Seeger, Matthew W. & Auer, Claudia (Hrsg.): The Handbook of International Crisis Communication Research. Chichester, Wiley Blackwell, 236-247

Arlt, Dorothee; Kuhlmann, Christoph & Wolling, Jens (2012): Ökologische Vorbilder? Die Wirkung medialer Darstellung ökologischen Handelns auf die Handlungsbereitschaft der Rezipienten. Ecological role models? The effect of the depiction of ecological activities in the media on the behavioral intentions of the recipients. In: SCM Studies in Communication | Media, 1(3-4), 411-442. (URL:

Communication on social justice

Communication on social justice

In the public debate on climate change and environmental protection, the thesis is put forward that measures against climate change and for environmental protection are at the expense of the socially disadvantaged part of the population. Against this background, the research group is concerned with questions of the representation of social justice (poverty vs. wealth) and examines how this issue is linked to the ecological goals of the sustainability concept.

In order to make the results of this research area easily accessible to a broad (scientific) public, the book series NEU - Nachhaltigkeits-, Energie- und Umweltkommunikation (Sustainability-, Energy-, and Environmental Communication) was initiated in cooperation with the colleagues Prof. Heinz Bonfadelli (Zurich), Prof. Mike S. Schäfer (Zurich) and Prof. Oliver Quiring (Mainz), which bundles research results from this area and makes them available online in Open Access.