19 June 2018
Brookings Institution Examines SDG Coverage in Newspapers, Academic Journals
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A Brookings Institution blog on ‘Who is Talking about the UN Sustainable Development Goals?' highlights findings from an assessment of MDG and SDG coverage in a cross-section of 16 major print media outlets and 13 academic journals from 2000 to 2016.

When examining a selection of newspapers from emerging economies, including in India, South Africa and Nigeria, the authors note a higher number of MDG-SDG mentions compared to newspapers from advanced economies.

14 June 2018: Two analysts from the Brookings Institution have called on delegates to consider ways to engage “people far away from the UN spotlight” in debates on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in an article featured on Brookings’ blog series and in a more detailed paper published in the academic journal Global Policy. John McArthur, Brookings senior fellow, and Christine Zhang, former research analyst, studied media and academic coverage of global development goals in 16 major print outlets and 13 academic journals from 2000 to 2016.

The SDGs still have a long road to travel to penetrate broader public consciousness, as measured by traditional media coverage.

The article titled, ‘Who is Talking about the UN Sustainable Development Goals?’ outlines findings from the April 2018 paper, which examines the coverage of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the SDGs. The authors report that the SDGs still have a “long road to travel” if they want to “penetrate broader public consciousness,” as measured by traditional media coverage, although they are starting to become a “reference point” for a wide range of public and private actors. Among other examples, the authors cite that: New York City declared it will become the first major city to report directly to the UN on the SDGs; many of the world’s foremost institutional investors are considering integrating the SDGs into their investment processes; and Kanye West, the celebrity artist, posted the 17 Goals for his 28 million Twitter followers.

When analyzing “advanced economy media markets,” with outlets such as the Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times, the authors find that coverage of global goals jumps in UN summit years (such as the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015 where UN Member States adopted the SDGs), but tends to lag in off-summit years. In emerging economies, newspapers such as the Times of India, the Star of South Africa, and the Vanguard of Nigeria make a higher number of MDG/SDG mentions compared to newspapers from advanced economies, with only a “small jump” in coverage in 2015. According to the authors, this finding counters the idea that SDG-related discourses are concentrated in developed countries.

The authors also assessed the extent to which the MDGs were referenced in some prominent relevant academic outlets through the end of 2015, and report that World Development, a cross-disciplinary social science journal, registered the largest share of articles mentioning the MDGs, at 8.6%. It also indicates that leading economics journals rank among the lowest in terms of MDG references, but a prevalence of MDG references in The Lancet and The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) suggests that “some portion of the health research community considered itself as MDG protagonist.”

The authors also note that 6.6% of the World Bank policy research working papers made mention of the MDGs in 2015. Since 2015, only nine World Bank policy research working papers mention the term “sustainable development goals.”

The article calls on delegates at the upcoming 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to discuss ways to engage citizens, businesses, researchers, journalists, and social media users to make them feel included in SDG-related debates. The authors remark that the “increasingly decentralized and digitized nature” of public discourse will require new approaches for SDG debates, and “sustained spotlights from public and private leaders” could be a crucial first step.

The Brookings Institution is a non-profit public policy research organization based in Washington, DC, US. [Who is talking about the UN Sustainable Development Goals?] [Publication: Measuring the Diffusion of the Millennium Development Goals across Major Print Media and Academic Outlets] [Brookings Institution]

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