When Neil Kagan, adjunct professor in law at the University of Michigan and senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, spoke to our environmental journalism class on October 31st, he brought up a point that really struck me as important and overlooked. Though he was discussing the topic of environmental litigation, he referenced climate change when he said that it in no other area would journalists be covering so much of the minority viewpoint when 99% of experts agree with one another than global warming and climate change are occurring. Hearing this made me really interested in searching for articles that might over-emphasize the viewpoint of a very small minority of experts, or even non-experts in the study of climate change. Not that all of the articles treats all sides equally, but even the mention of a thought that is held by less than 1% of experts, according to Kagan, should raise the eyebrows of curious and informed readers.
One very troubling, and almost comical article is from Popular Science about an unemployed man in Florida who spent hours upon hours editing Hurricane Sandy’s Wikipedia page to continually erase mentions of climate change as an explanation for the disaster that were added by other Wikipedians. Plenty of questions arise from this–should it make us rethink where we get our news? Wikipedia is becoming more of a credible source, with university professors now accepting Wikipedia citations in research papers (in my own experience), yet the information we are getting could be sharply biased by a 56-year old unemployed man? Another interesting issue is that Popular Science chose to interview and write about this seemingly unimportant man in a lengthy article, which gives his radical viewpoint and actions instead of an article about what actual experts in the field are thinking on the issue. Is the value of page views for this story worth the sacrifice of real, important scientific news? How should journalists be covering issues like this, if at all, especially if their employer is pushing them to get more reads?
This Los Angeles Times article discusses how Obama will be addressing climate change more after the recent elections. It’s an important and positive move in politics, yet the way the journalist chose to end the article was unfortunate. The article ends referencing a tweet by Donald Trump, a climate change denier and the kicker sentence is simply Trump’s tweet, which says climate change was made up by the Chinese to hurt American competition. Is this the way an article like this should end? Is it important to acknowledge opposing viewpoints like these, and does the fact that he is a politician (somewhat) make it more relevant? Why are there not more climate experts being quoted?
What do you think? What is the trade-off between journalists getting marketable articles, with big names, and having valid sources in their articles? How should journalists acknowledge opposing viewpoints with such a strong expert majority?