Climate Change Reporting

We are still at a point in our nations history that we do not unanimously recognize that climate change is happening and that it is being caused by our actions.  Reporting on this issue can be hard, because it is difficult to get many people to care about the environment and see how it connects to their own lives, and more importantly the lives of the next generation.  What tools do reporters use to get people to care about environmental issues today?  Do you think reporters are motivated as activists for more responsible human action in terms of sustainability or are they looking at climate change through the lens of an unbiased journalist?  It it the place of a journalist to act as an environmental activist?  Check out some of these articles and talk about what you think the journalist is doing to get the public to care about climate change.  Also mention whether you think the journalist are acting in an environmental activist role or not.


About Liz

I am a college student at University of Michigan studying Political Science. I have just applied to Peace Corps and am looking forward to spending my time as a volunteer. I enjoy competing and training for triathlons in my free time.

12 Responses to “Climate Change Reporting”

  1. One thing to keep in mind here, is that Huffington Post is a self-aware left leaning news source. So in that way, I’m not sure that they’re trying to promote themselves as producers of unbiased journalism. But I do think that there’s a definite balance between journalism and activism. As Julie and Emilia have said in class, often times journalists act as the communicators between officials and the public as a way to initiate change. That being said, not every story is used to inspire action, and credibility is often tied to unbiased journalism.

    So I would answer your question could go either way. Journalists CAN be motivated as activists to try to persuade, OR they can try to present an unbiased lens. If they are trying to inspire change, they may choose to highlight certain facts as opposed to others. For example, the Huffington Post article highlights the damage that the keystone pipeline would create, and the environmentalist’s response. On the other hand, they don’t explain HOW climate laws would “devastate” the economy, according to Mark Rubio, and make him sound un-credible. So in this case, I would say that Huffington Post is trying to persuade opinion of reader.

  2. I think one of the best ways to address the climate change debate is to really quantify short term impacts. So many people know that global warming exists and that we really are damaging the environment. However, no one cares because no one knows what the immediate impacts are. Most people don’t think it will affect humans for lifetimes. And if this information is being presented, it is only reaching the current base of environmentalists. Journalism needs to better approach the education system to implement writing into coursework. Working with younger people and helping them realize the consequences of driving instead of riding their bikes or developing flexitarian diets is the greatest step toward change.

  3. In my opinion, and this is really just an opinion, journalism is not about bringing action or changing opinions. It’s about putting out information, presenting multiple angles, and giving people the opportunity to change their viewpoint. When I write a story it isn’t to convince someone that what I am reporting on is right; it is to give them the opportunity to have a viewpoint they don’t understand explained by experts.

    I like to think that journalists act as a vehicle for social activism. It isn’t the journalist that should be rallying, but perhaps the actors within the article are. When a journalist writes a piece with the hopes of bringing about change or action, it isn’t news anymore. It becomes opinion and belongs in a different section of the paper.

    Both Huffington Post articles are reporting on a situation. All information given about the environment and what action should be taken are quotes. Maura brought up a good point, that journalists do have the power to push their own agenda by what quotes and information they include, but ultimately the feel of the piece should match the feel of the event. The first article does a better job of this than the second. You get the feeling that the journalist is simply including information that those at the rally found to be important.

    It would have been nice to have had some opposing view points present in the first article though.

  4. Since the journalist is still a person, I would say that there is space for him/her to act as an environmental activist. If that is the case, then they will have to be extra careful when writing about the environment to make clear what is their own opinion and what are the facts.
    As on the best way to present information about climate change, in my point of view, the best way is though the use of images, or historical pictures (like in, that may be associated with news articles on in the form of documentaries (such as the documentary Chasing Ice Images are worth a thousand words and have a perfect translation to any language.
    I interviewed some people on reporting about climate change, and one of my questions was: who is responsible for convincing the audience about climate change? the journalist, the scientist or someone else? What do you all think? In my opinion, whoever has the information is responsible for sharing it on the most responsible way… and let people make their own choices.

  5. I think that the role of the journalist depends on the journalist’s audience and their purpose. If a journalist is a reporter that is sent out to collect and present the facts about an issue, I think they should do this without bias. They should show both viewpoints and allow their reader to form an opinion. However, if it is the journalist’s responsibility to change public opinion about a topic due to a more editorial nature of their article, it is appropriate to show some of a bias.

    In the first article, I see a journalist that is just reporting the facts of the event. The journalist does not seem to be biased, but is giving the reader information based on quotes from those interviewed. Searching through the article, there is not much opinion that can be seen coming directly from the journalist. On the other hand, in the second article, I feel that it is fueled by bias and opinion. Obviously, this article was meant to discredit Marco Rubio and his statements.

    I suppose the way I see it is that a journalist should be expected to report the news factually and without bias. However, if they are using their journalism as a way of activism, a bias is to be expected.

  6. I would argue that journalists often do not take full advantage of their available tools to communicate environmental issues with the public. The most prominent climate issue existing today could be easily argued as global warming and climate change. These issues can be best communicated through images and visualization, as we discussed in previous classes. Images are powerful tools that elicit emotion with considerable impact. Through providing images (or even simple statistical graphs), journalists can promote an idea that speaks much louder than words without worrying about how their own bias or a slanting perspective of what they are communicating. Yet, few include such visuals. For example, the NASA graphic speaks for itself and the journalist is clearly acting as an environmental activist. On another note, if the public is not engaging in these environmental issues, I believe it is the role of the journalist to create the appropriate amount of urgency to stir discussion and action among the public.

    In the Huffington Post articles, the journalist clearly has an agenda to portray Marco Rubio in a certain light. While the issue at hand may be the environment, other political biases and agendas cloud the intended topic. I believe journalists have the responsibility to promote the most accurate information as possible, even if their own views conflict. There should at least be consideration of the other perspective as we discussed in class.

  7. I think that the reality of climate change is still speculative because of those who will benefit the most by it being ignored. There is also a lot of misinformation and contrasting view points. People do not completely understand the implications of climate change and how it will affect their everyday lives, if this is not understood, very little will ignite change. The problem with this is that climate change science is relatively new and is changing with atmospheric conditions, environmental processes, and human influence. These are difficult to predict and thus it tough to get good uniform information out, because there is still so much that is unknown or predictions about climate change. I think it is not addressed just how complex this issue is, and how many different variables comprise this issue social, political, economic, and scientific implications. This makes it easier for people to doubt climate change in conjunction with those companies and special interests that are doing everything they can to prove that climate change is false. As a climate change activist it would be easy for me to wish that journalists would work through that vein, however, I cannot, with a clean conscious wish for journalists to publish biased, or misinformed articles to seemingly prove the point to favor environmental activists, this loses validity for the news source as well as the journalist. There are ways to frame information about climate change in a skeptical or imperative way, but this too can become difficult to separate from objective journalism to published activism.
    P.S. I went to the climate change rally and it was awesome, I hope there can be some discussion about it in class!

  8. I talked about this in my response to Emilia’s post this week in the comments, but I think you bring up and interesting point Liz. In the case of a polarizing issue like climate change I think it’s important not to just present all sides of the information, but as a journalist who is attempting to inform the public, but to interrogate and critically analyze all sides. I think an issue in mainstream journalism with regards to climate change as that there is too much fear of appearing unbiased, to the point where journalists are presenting false equivalences. If on one side you have most of the scientific community saying climate change is happening and it’s man made and on the other side you have special interest groups who have an fiscal incentive to pay scientists to skew information about climate change it’s the journalists role to point that out so that readers are informed. I don’t think that’s advocacy journalism. I think that’s responsible journalism. Not all sides are equal, and I think the NYTimes public editor does a great job of dealing with the we should present all sides and let the readers decide.
    “The issue has come up frequently with science-related stories, particularly those involving climate change. The Times has moved toward regularly writing, in its own voice, that mounting evidence indicates humans are indeed causing climate change, but it does not dismiss the skeptics altogether.”

  9. I agree with Cassie and Liz. On issues like enviromentalism, it is important for journalists to become minor-activists to unearth the truth. By remaining 100% neutral, impartial and giving equal weight to both sides of the debate, I feel it gives those who have vested interest in maintaining the status quo too much power. The ability to cast doubt does not allow us to spend time discussing ways of solving the problem. Even if Americans believe that global warming is true, they are overwhelmed or unsure if changing their behaviors will help. As a high school debater, we discussed the Keystone pipeline at length and it really embarasses me that the idea is still under consideration after numerous reports have explained etenviromental ramifications in addition to the fact that the supply there can not even come close to meeting the demand.

    The first Huffington post article had a strong lede and nutgraph describing the scene at the rally. Both articles had incredibly weak kickers and failed to explain how the rally and Rubio’s statements will impact global warming in the future.

  10. There’s an interesting line that seems to have developed, especially in regards to global warming. Since the topic has been used so much in popular culture (see South Park or The Day After Tomorrow) it seems like reporters very carefully avoid putting too much of an apocalyptic tenor in their reporting. If they go too far, they risk reminding readers of the plot of a bad movie, at which point the reader disregards the information presented.

    Getting back to the question, I would argue that reporters have a responsibility to be impartial, but impartiality can be relative when the audience is primed. Since so much frequently dishonest or dramatized information is already in the public consciousness, a reporter might want to sort of compensate. People tend to assume that the truth is about halfway in between the most extreme viewpoints they hear. If one side is “There’s no way this is true”, a little extra doom and gloom might be called for.

  11. I’m impressed with how optimistic the protestors are in regards to Obama being on their side with the keystone pipeline. I wonder what Obama really thinks about the whole thing…I’ve read quite a few articles on the protestors but none on Obama’s ideas and actions. Hopefully he really is on their side!

    It is nice though to read an article that is being optimistic about the future and shows citizens in action, fighting for what they think is right.

  12. Reporters have many technological tools at their disposable to make people care about environmental issues today. First, they are able to grab the attention of their receiving audience, whether that is in a print newspaper or online. They have the ability to make videos and bring environmental issues to the screens of the public, for example when a news segment features the melting ice glaciers to address climate change.
    To speak collectively about the motivation of reporters as activists is a disservice to the individual nature of every reporter. I don’t think we can lump all reporters together because in journalism exists a varying level of caring about an issue or a topic. We shouldn’t be able to tell if a reporter feels like an activist because they should remain unbiased, however, even in the choosing of which stories to report on and publish lend itself to great bias. What gets reported often feels like the most important issues to the public when that might not be the case. Breast cancer is a commonly written about by reports, but it is not the number one killer of women.
    Journalists can be activists but I don’t agree that it’s their place. I agree with Chelsea’s opinion completely, that we report while others do.
    The first article about the Washington rally reports on the issue in a fair way. The second article tries to use the voice of a public official to sway public opinion and uses a rather charged quote to do the job. These articles do not place the journalists in an environmental activist role; rather the people they are reporting on fit this description.

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