Environmental Journalism Notes on an emerging journalism ...

Environmental Journalism Notes on an emerging journalism ...

Environmental Journalism JOU 9742 FIMS UWO Bill Kovarik, PhD What is environmental journalism? Why is it important? Journalism is

a profession conveying news, information and opinion through mass media to various audiences. an essential component of democracy, protected by: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19, Section 2(b) of the Charter of Canada First Amendment, Constitution of the US European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights

Environmental Journalism is NEW -- relatively new as a beat (1970s) but part of an ongoing tradition of reporting about conservation, technology and public health ABOUT SCIENCE -- helping public understand environmental science, along with economic and political issues about the environment INFORMING -- like other forms of journalism, oriented towards informing the public with accredited facts and a broad array of analysis and opinion IMPROVING -- becoming more professional in recent

years, thanks in part to SEJ, but also CHANGING -- undergoing severe cutbacks in US and Canadian newsrooms NEEDED -- paradoxically, its less available at a time when it is needed most Journalism Associations National or international -- Canadian Association of Journalists, US Society of Professional Journalists, British Association of Journalists, InterAmerican Press Assn, etc.

Media or professional specialization -- Radio-TV News Directors, Online Journalists Association, Society of News Design, Career development, minority -- National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Assn, National Assn of Black Journalists, National Assn of Hispanic Journalists Subject specialization: military, sports, education, criminal justice, religion, agriculture, science & health care Society of Environmental Journalists (US & Canada) National Assn of Science Writers (US)

Canadian Assn of Science Writers (Canada) EJ associations US Natl Assn Science Writers - 1934 Canadian Assn Science Writers - 1971 Society Environmental Journalists - 1990 International Federation Environmental Journalists

- 1993 World Federation Science Journalists - 2002 Environmental Communication Academic definition: EC is the pragmatic and constitutive vehicle for our understanding of the environment as well as our relationships to the natural world; it is the symbolic medium that we use in constructing environmental problems and negotiating

societys different responses to them. Robert Cox, Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006 Studies of EJs David Sachsman, Joanne Valenti et al., In 2008, only 36 % newspapers, 10% TV stations selfidentified staffer as an environmental reporter (Number has declined drastically since then) Half spend only 1/3 of time on environmental issues

Only 26 % cover environment more than 2/3 of the time About 24% of Ejs majored in science, compared to 3% of other journalists / Other attributes - age, gender, education levels, and job satisfaction levels were the same Studies of EJs Sachsman, Valenti et al., Men are 2/3 of EJs in 03 survey / surprising result / possibly survey error or artifact

3/4 of Ejs felt need for more training and education Most have some undergrad science training Other studies have shown correlation between accuracy and university level science education Newsroom cuts impact Massive cuts in most newsrooms 2009 Boston Globe laid off entire science and environment unit, WSJ layoffs, many others -often Ejs & SWs are first to go Many publications folding or shifting to digital Seattle Post Intelligencer, Rocky Mountain News,

Christian Science Monitor Many TV programs cut -- Weather Channel climate program, CNN science and environment unit Canadian EJ Long tradition of great environmental writing in Canada Farley Mowatt (fiction), Gray Owl (nature); Fifth Estates Denial Machine (CBC); Chris Turners Geography of Hope; Andrew Nikiforuks Tar Sands Since the economic meltdown, quantity of

EJ greatly reduced and media have supported paradoxical idea of consumer spending as improving economy Needed: More outreach Not only will we have to re-invent the economic model of journalism, but we will also have reinvent the conversation about journalism, making it less internal to the profession, and more interactive with the rest of

society. -- Nicholas Lehman, Columbia University School of Journalism, May 2009 Increasing need for public understanding of science -----

Vannevar Bush Jacob Bronowski Two Cultures CP Snow Carl Sagan and -- several examples Science & democracy linked Vannevar Bush, 1949

The democratic process and the applications of science are intimately intertwined, for science does not operate in a vacuum Discussions on the air or at the corner store revolve about these two central subjects (which are always) in the background. They determine our destiny, and well we know

it. The world today is powered by science To abdicate an interest in science is to walk with eyes open toward slavery. If we are anything we must be a democracy of the intellect. We must not perish by the distance between people and power, by which Babylon and Egypt and Rome failed. And that distance

can only be closed if knowledge sits in the homes and heads of people with no ambition to control others, and not in isolated seats of power. -- Jacob Bronowski, 1956 and 1973 Intellectual life is increasingly being split into two polar groups literary intellectuals and scientists (who) cant talk to each other. The gap should be closed for the sake of Western society living

precariously rich among the poor, and for the sake of the poor, who neednt be poor if there is intelligence in the world. -- The Two Cultures, C.P. Snow, 1959 (many takes on Snows two cultures idea) (many takes on Snows two cultures idea) "I have a foreboding of ... a (future) service

and information economy ... when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority ... The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the

enormously influential media " -- Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, Random House, 1995 What if Sagan could train an environmental reporter? -- Represent the public interest -- ask knowledgeable questions -- grasp the issues and understand the range of possibility and opinion without getting baffled by complexity

-- Help set a public interest agenda Science literacy For every five hours of cable news, less than a minute is devoted to science The number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades. 46 percent of Americans deny

evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old Scientific literacy Wind power uses more energy that it produces Typical comment at a Tazewell VA public hearing on wind farm siting, May 2009. Climate change is a hoax -- 700,000 hits on Google August 2009 Sunlight isnt some magical free resource that we can just catch: most of it is already being used to power the biosphere. Take some away, say by building massive solar farms, and you have just that much less biosphere trying, and eventually failing, to support an ever-increasing human population. -- Blog comment,

August 2009 T or F: "Creationism -- that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years Definitely true 39%, Probably true 27 % (66%) Probably false 15 %, Definitely false 16% (31%) Ejs need science literacy CLAIM by the Tennessee Valley Authority (US federal utility) June 30, 2009 Chattanooga Times - Press

Costs of electricity per megawatt hour $25 to $35 coal $20 nuclear energy $5 to $8 hydro-generation in dams $50 to $300 wind and solar energy Source: TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum When questioned, TVA said: The range of costs for renewables reflects the approximate range of responses TVA received for its December 2008 request for proposals for renewable

energy The costs shown for coal, nuclear and hydro are O&M and where applicable, fuel costs When TVA does look at options for generation for meeting future energy needs, a comparison of the available choices is done using a levelized cost. So So by being uneducated and uncritical, the newspaper allowed TVA to unethically disadvantage renewable energy. At a time when society needs new energy sources,

and needs good information about costs and benefits, this is poor practice. Scholarship in EJ & SciComm Sources <--> Channels <--> Audiences Quantitative analysis (eg Opinion polling, Content analysis, Co-orientation) Qualitative analysis (Frame analysis, focus groups) Also: risk communication, critical theory, environmental history

Basic issues for EJ What is the function / role news media in forming science and environmental policy? (libertarian, social responsibility, propaganda model, etc). How do journalists translate science for public? Problem areas include complexity, uncertainty, conflicting claims, political dimensions What is role of ideology & advocacy in EJ?

When do emergency conditions supercede professional commitments (eg war reporting)? Basic issues for EJ Professionals have long been concerned with issue fatigue In other words, how do we

avoid THIS? (with apologies to R.Crumb) Content analysis: David Weintraub, USC MA thesis, 2007 2007 survey 432 articles on climate using 9 dimensions of risk established (Slovic) and frame analysis

(Gamson) found: -- Risk: n/a (45%), severe (35%), future (33%), immediate (21%), catastrophic (15%) and nonhuman life (14%). -- Frames: political (44%), consequences (22%), and scientific (10%). -- Sources: government (38%), scientist (27%) non profit NGO (13%). Audience analysis: Erin Marlowe, MA, U. of Missouri, 2005 thesis

Seeing Red in Green News-- political ideology and partisanship are factors in credibility assessments and perceived bias in environmental news. Articles written using moderate sources and suggestions of compromise were rated as lower in bias and higher in credibility than articles using confrontational language and sources with intense viewpoints. (more) Audience analysis (cont):

Erin Marlowe, MA, University of Missouri, 2005 thesis Study supports hostile media phenomenon, -- highly partisan individuals judge media to be biased against their side and favorable to their opponents Journalists can ensure wider acceptance of a message by writing moderately and including suggestions of solutions to environmental problems.

Translating science Problem: Climate change issue: objectivity led to false balance, elevation of non-scientific ideas about climate (Max Boykoff) Cronje Just the facts framing backfires

Russill -- Borrow from health rhetoric Moyers -- Borrow from religious rhetoric Dunwoody Use weight of evidence Meyers -- Use precision journalism Framing strategies Science is dynamic A "just the facts" strategy can and often does backfire, ultimately fueling public alienation from science. When scientists inform the public of "facts" the public is justifiably confused. Studies suggest that the public tends to regard normal scientific

refinement and self-correction as equivocation or incompetence Instead of sweeping uncertainty under the rug, science communicators should help the public understand the logical and systematic procedures by which scientists confront it. -- Ruth Cronje, Nature, March 18, 2008 Framing strategies British and American sources now seek to structure public understanding of climate change by issuing tipping point forewarnings of danger with increasing frequency. This emerging trend announces a shift in the way we are likely

to perceive and respond to climate change dangers. This paper reviews key statements to suggest a significant dimension of this trend is its enrollment of epidemiological terminology to communicate urgent and uncertain threats. Chris Russill (U. Minn) Tipping Point forewarnings Env Comm 2:2 2008

Framing strategies / risk comm 1988 Exposition 2006 2008 Consequences Solutions Framing climate change as Noahs flood How to reach fundamentalist Christians who doubt evolution? How

would I get them to hear me? I might interview a scientist who is also a person of faith and ask how he or she might frame the subject in a way to catch the attention of other believers. I might interview a minister who would couch the work of todays climate and biodiversity scientists in a biblical metaphor: the story of Noah and the flood, for example. The parallels of this parable are wonderful to behold. Both scientists and Noah possess knowledge of a potentially impending global catastrophe. They try to spread the word, to warn the world, but are laughed at, ridiculed. You can almost hear some philistine

telling old Noah he is nothing but a gloom and doom environmentalist -- Bill Moyers at SEJ 2005 Sharon Dunwoody Weight of evidence Objectivity and balance are normative behaviors (which) do not survive haphazardly within occupations If a reporter cannot determine whats true, what is she to do? The objectivity norm responds that, if

you cannot tell whats true, then at least capture truth claims accurately Dunwoody -- weight of evidence Another strategy that would permit journalists to retain their emphasis on objectivity and balance but still share with their audiences a sense of where truth might lie, at least at that moment. I call this strategy weight-of-evidence reporting. It calls on journalists not to determine whats true but, instead, to find out where the bulk of evidence

and expert thought lies on the truth continuum and then communicate that to audiences. Phil Myers Precision Journalism Meyers suggests we are developing a new concept of objectivity and journalistic method. We follow events, observe the patterns, and formulate theories about patterns and structure, test theory objectively in way that can either be verified or falsified

Meyers -- precision journalism Most professional journalists follow an objective scientific standard of replicability. They inform their investigations with theories about the underlying causes of events. They develop operational tests of those theories. And they document the steps in executing their tests with a paper trail that any other investigator could find and follow and come out with the same

results. Levels of reporting (Mencher, Myers) 1. Event -- objective reporting 2. Pattern -- beat coverage, interpretative reporting 3. Structure investigative reporting, attention to solutions, precision journalism Advocacy

Advocacy vs objectivity Socially responsible journalism involves value judgments and inherent commitments that are evident in how issues are framed. Examples: Police reporting - individuals are innocent until proven guilty, but pattern or system rarely questioned Sports and business reporting often entails boosterism Civil rights versus race war frame in US during 1950s and 60s

Advocacy v Objectivity Environmental journalists are expected to be advocates for changes to improve the quality of the planet. WWF on EJ What do we lose by giving up objectivity? What do we gain? Does the objectivity model get in the way of the truth? Does EJ itself need more advocacy? Practical concern given foundation funding trends

Levels of Advocacy Level 1 -- Event / Issue advocacy -- How do we report debate about risk from a specific activity or pollution source? Level 2 -- Pattern / Agenda advocacy -Should environmental issues be placed higher on the policy agenda? Which ones? Level 3 -- Structural advocacy -- Do we mitigate or adapt to the consequences of lifestyles and social structures? How?

Ex: Reporting environmental violence Ecotage or monkeywrenching. (Edward Abbey) T. Wagner found 155 news stories 1984 to 2006. Shift in framing ecotage as ecoterrorism starting in 2001, but before 9/11. Increasingly the discourse of fear has been used to indicate the seriousness of ecoterrorism. Volume of stories increased while number of reported incidences declined

Travis Wagner Environmental Comm 2:1 2008 Notes: Stories tended to justify 20+ year sentences Recent ecotage in Petrolia seen as vandalism by London FP while in the US it might be seen as ecoterrorism Why? Spectrum of professional approaches Positivistic / traditional journalism Just the facts let the chips fall where they may

Social responsibility theory / Facts plus conscious framing, interpretation, weight of evidence, precision reporting Social construction of reality / post - modernist perspective Facts as can best be determined, point of view clearly stated Propaganda model Fight dominant paradigm with strong point of view

In conclusion Environmental journalism is important, it was maturing, but it is getting lost in the economic crisis (losing both coverage and jobs) The urgency of the climate crisis is a challenge to our ideas about neutrality Public interest, seeking truth without fear or favor in various ways is the bottom line of good journalism EJ needs to adapt to new economic models

of the media The End

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