I’m not defending my professional pride. I know well that journalism has its shortcomings. (See Iraq war for for obvious and tragic example.)
I just happen to believe that your expectations of journalists are unreasonable. You seem to think it falls on journalism’s collective shoulders to rescue humanity from imminent climate catastrophe. Or you at least hoped so at one time.
But now that you’ve apparently given up that hope, I’m asking you or any of your readers to demonstrate an alternative means of communication for the daily reporting of climate-related news.
Forget about long-form magazine stories or investigative pieces. Those are different beasts. Let’s stick to the guts of daily journalism–the reporting of events, meetings, research findings, et al. That’s the cog in the wheel.
I doubt your grassroots effort will supplant the reach and influence of the mainstream media on this front. Nonetheless I welcome whatever innovation you can bring to climate change journalism. In the meantime, if you’d like to help make us poor wretches part of the solution (as opposed to being “part of the problem), show us how it’s done.
I’d like to see a blog out there that actually stops bitching about journalism and starts showing us how to do a better job. Criticism is easy and lazy. I can find a story I don’t like everyday and carp about it.
Perhaps the best way to do this is to set up a parallel universe journalism web site, where someone like yourself writes up an alternative story to Pearce’s. (I had high hopes that Grist would do this back in the day…but that’s not going to happen now.)
At least then you and so many other climate advocates could constructively channel all that antipathy towards the press.
This is a thoughtful and constructive query. I’d be happy to have more discussion of it.
I’m not sure I have any advice for the individual journalist caught up in the day-to-day of conventional journalism. My beef is with the system.
There are at least two primary complaints that come to my mind.
Much has been made of the false balance problem. When there are two political parties, and the press implicitly is obligated to “split the difference”, that provides a huge polarizing mechanism, motivating the most extreme possible positions to drag the “middle” slightly in the desired direction. The consequence of this, a particularly American journalistic ethic, have obviously been disastrous, not only on the climate question.
The second issue, though, is the “timeliness” one. My wife went to see a talk to budding journalists by Jim Lehrer, who spoke of a report on the Ogalalla aquifer as one of his worst mistakes as a young journalist; after all, the effects were not anticipated to even begin for forty years. But in fact it was not a mistake! It was an issue that people should have in mind forty years in advance, because the planning and coping for such a thing takes a very long time!
Any scientist (leaving aside economists, apparently) understands that phenomena have specific time scales associated with them. Science itself has a time scale of about a decade – it takes about five years between a paper being published and it being recognized as an important advance. This can vary, typically between, say, immediate and twenty years. An attempt to do a “This Week In Science” (and once say an awful eefort at this on TV) is therefore utterly ridiculous. News hooks in science simply don’t have that shape! Biasing toward obvious “hot stuff” completely skews what people understand.
I think it might be better to identify fifty scientific disciplines, and do a “This year in solid earth geophysics” once a year; even then most of the items should be expected to be a year or two out of date.
Finally, every single person who talks about “the scientific method” as if there were one and they know what it is needs to have their mouth washed out with soap. Especially schoolteachers. Some of what needs to be conveyed is what scientists actually do, where these results come from, and how understanding actually emerges from these efforts.
As Clifford Johnson once said to me, “We need to explain that we are not special people. We are people doing a special thing.” We try. But y’all journalists are supposed to be the professionals at explaining things.
In short, my advice is simple. Understand things. Explain them. Pay no attention to who wants which facts emphasized, and don’t ignore stories just because they have long time scales. Is that so difficult?