- Publications & Blogs
- The Observatory - Columbia Journalism Review blog on environmental journalism
Writing Tips for environmental news
- Creepy critters in sensitive places: What science writers will do to get your attention. Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio, March 28, 2013.
- Science writer struggles to understand CAFO impacts, Oct., 2010 – I once heard someone say that the definition of a good story is: “Main character falls into a hole and struggles to get out… “
- This is a news website article about a scientific paper, Sept. 2010 – In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever… by Martin Robins
- Nature’s Prophet: Bill McKibben as a science writer. Fall 2012, Shorenstein report by Matthew C. Nisbet.
Overview of the craft
- Science Journalism in Crisis By The Euroscience Newsletter - The downward trend (of coverage in the US and UK) was not reflected by Nadia El-Awady who had gathered data on science reporting in the Arab World and Africa. Seemingly in these regions the appetite for science stories is increasing. (Also linked to 6th Conf Sci Journ).
- Science journalism: Too close for comfort – By Boyce Rensberger (Nature, June 25, 2009)– Science journalism has undergone profound changes since its origin more than a century ago … If science journalists are to regain relevance to society, not only must they master the new media, they must learn enough science to analyse and interpret the findings…
- Science Journalism: Toppling the Priesthood by Toby Murcott (Nature, June 25, 2009) — (Political journalists) “are active participants in the process of knowledge creation in a way that science journalists cannot be, given the qualifications needed to act as an equal in scientific debate.”
- Science Journalism in Decline; Science Blogging Growing Fast — By Geoff Brumfiel — (Nature, Mar 18 2009) John Timmer’s slide into journalism was so gradual even he can’t put his finger on the point at which he stopped being a researcher. He started reading Internet websites and message boards a decade ago, while he was working as a postdoc …
- Environmental Journalism Viewed from Canada, by Shane Gunster, Media Development 2:56, Spring 2009 (On reserve or to be distributed with permission) — (By 2008 we could be optimistic about) … the sheer volume of stories (and) a noticeable shift in the tone and content of the coverage away from controversies over the legitimacy of climate science towards an acceptance of its anthropogenic basis, the likely severity of its effects and the pressing need to substantiallyreduce greenhouse gases…. (But by 2009) … Eight months into the meltdown of financial markets and in the midst of a deepening global economic recession, the prospects for environmental journalism today in Canada appear much bleaker. Given the widespread and often catastrophic impact of the economic crisis, the rapid displacement of the environment by the economy in the headlines is entirely understandable. More troublesome, though, is the complete failure of the media to reflect upon the possibility that ‘fixing’ the crisis might involve something more creative than simply stimulating a return to unsustainable levels of consumption and economic growth. What about exploring a fundamentally different vision of what constitutes a healthy economy based upon criteria such as sustainability or the capacity to satisfy real human needs?
- Are Environmental Journalists an Endangered Species? By Joel Mackower (Huffington Post, Dec. 18, 2008)– “… Mainstream business writers still seem ill-informed and overly cynical about company efforts to be greener. Like the preponderance of their readers, editors and reporters seem to start with the assumption that most environmental activities undertaken by companies, especially large companies, are done primarily for P.R. reasons. True, healthy skepticism is the currency of a good journalist, but undying cynicism is more the norm when it comes to environmental business reporting.
- Hurrican Gustav and Mark Schleifstein By Brian Stelter, New York Times, Aug 31, 2008 The Times-Picayune in New Orleans is promoting the work of Mark Schleifstein, a 24-year veteran of the newspaper, with a forceful claim this week: He is, the paper asserts, “the man who predicted the flood.”
- Five inconvenient Truths By David Downs, Colombia Journalism Review (July 2008) — 1) It Ain’t Sports Writing: A reporter covering, say, baseball doesn’t have to define a home run in every article, but a reporter covering climate almost always has to remind readers what greenhouse gases are…
classics of the craft
- How do we cover penguins and politics of denial? By Bill Moyers (2005 SEJ talk) — Here’s an important statistic to ponder: Forty-five percent of Americans hold a creational view of the world, discounting Darwin’s theory of evolution. I don’t think it is a coincidence then that in a nation where nearly half our people believe in creationism, much of the populace also doubts the certainty of climate-change science. Contrast that to other industrial nations where climate-change science is overwhelmingly accepted as truth: in Britain, for example, where 81 percent of the populace wants the government to implement the Kyoto treaty. What’s going on here? Simply that millions of American Christians accept the literal story of Genesis, and they either dismiss or distrust a lot of science;not only evolution, but paleontology, archeology, geology, genetics, even biology and botany. To those Christians who believe that our history began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and that it will end soon on the plains of Armageddon, environmental science, with its urgent warnings of planetary peril, must look at the best irrelevant. At worst the environmental woes we report may be stoically viewed as the inevitable playing out of the end of time as presented in the book of Revelation. For Christian dominionists who believe the Lord will provide for all human needs and never leave us short of oil or other resources, no matter how we overpopulate the earth, our reporting may be viewed as a direct attack on Biblical teachings …
- Science and journalism fail to connect By Dan Fagin (2005) How can we expect Americans to know anything beyond what they happen to remember from science class? Journalists certainly don’t tell them.
- The Disconnect of News Reporting From Scientific Evidence by Max Boykoff (2005) — By adhering to the notion of balance, (the news media) greatly amplified the views of a small group of contrarians who contest the notion that humans are contributing to changes in the climate.
- Weight-of-Evidence Reporting: What Is It? Why Use It? by Sharon Dunwoody (2005) – If a reporter cannot determine what’s true, what is she to do? The “objectivity norm” responds that, if you cannot tell what’s true, then at least capture truth claims accurately. Objective journalism effectively reproduces the views of its sources… A journalist can work to meet the high standards of accuracy set by the objectivity norm but might still mislead readers into thinking that a source’s position on an issue is important and potentially true… I suggest 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.
- The end of science writing By Jon Franklin (1997) If science was ever a thing apart, a special way of living and of seeing things, that time is past. Today, science is the vital principle of our civilization. To do science is critical, to defend it the kernel of political realism. To define it in words is to be, quite simply, a writer, working the historical mainstream of literature.
- The health of science journalism By Peter Osnos (The Century Foundation, 2007) Mass media of the sort that reaches the largest and most uncritical audiences is spending vastly more energy on what sells than on what matters in a deeper sense.
- The Two Cultures by CP Snow — Snow is not merely concerned with the cultural canyons between scientists and writers (or nerds and hippies in today’s cultural shorthand). He was gravely concerned about the consequences, the fact that science and technology was not being used to address problems of poverty, environmental deterioration and human suffering. In: The Two Cultures (wikipedia article)50th anniversary reviews — New York Times London Telegraph and Physics World
- Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Beings By John P. Holdren (2008) Science and technology have particularly important roles to play [in] meeting the basic needs of the poor; managing the competition for the land, water, and terrestrial biota of the planet; maintaining the integrity of the oceans; mastering the energy-economy-environment dilemma; and moving toward a nuclear weapon-free world.
- Politics and the English language By George Orwell (1946) Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.
- The seven warning signs of Voodoo Science By Robert L. Park (2002) Seven distinct warning signs … were identified: 1. A discovery is pitched directly to the media… 2. A powerful establishment is said to be suppressing the discovdery … 3. An effect is always at the very limit of detection…
- Top Ten Tips (to scientists) for Telling Your Story (to reporters) By Mark Schleifstein Make sure your message is clear before the reporter leaves. Don’t exclude facts or take short-cuts in your explanations, because they’ll lead to errors in the story.
- The revolution that didn’t happen By Stephen Weinberg (1998) Kuhn did not deny that there is progress in science, but he denied that it is progress toward anything. He often used the metaphor of biological evolution: scientific progress for him was like evolution as described by Darwin, a process driven from behind, rather than pulled toward some fixed goal to which it grows ever closer.
- The Media as a Tool for Communication on the Environment and Sustainability By Michael Nitz Since the media are the primary source for citizens’ information about environmental issues, the paper first examines how the media cover the environment. Second, the chapter proposes a dualistic framework of framing and involvement theories as a way to explain the process of organizations’ public communication in the environmental arena.
- Environmentalists Narrative ByStuart Schoenfeld (2004) Like any other social group, environmentalists have a shared story about who they are and how they came to be …
- Rental Trucks and Brain Surgeons: Why do humanities students need to study science? (PDF) By Bruce Margon (2000) I see at least four major reasons: 1. Qualification as a citizen… 2. Detection of nonsense … 3. Understanding certain absolutes… 4. Beauty …
- Science and technology policymaking: A primer (PDF) (Congressional Research Service) Science and engineering research and innovations are intricately linked to societal needs and the nation’s economy in areas such as transportation, communication, agriculture, education, environment, health, defense, and jobs. As a result, policymakers are interested in almost every aspect of science and technology policy.
- Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators, by Bud Ward — (7 MB pdf download). The time has come for a sea change in the national approach to one of the world’s most urgent scientific, public policy, environmental, and public health issues: anthropogenic climate change. This new approach will require more than political will, though; it will require a huge leap in the American public’s understanding of climate change.
- Can better communication of climate science cut climate risks? — Andy Revkin, New York Times “The challenge, of course, is that a science-based definition of the “climate crisis” is not the kind
- of message that will get people rushing to the ramparts.
- Climate scientists e-mail hacked, posted … by Bud Ward, Yale ClimateForum — A veritable flood of hundreds of emails surreptitiously released by a computer hacker from a famous climate change research facility has climate skeptics seeing, or hoping, for blood…
- Ten tips for Covering Biofuels By Bill Kovarik (2007) 1. Seek the truth. In biofuels as in many other scientific controversies, charges and counter-charges are often made by partisans. As a journalist, your job is to get beyond the sound bites and to define and analyze the issues.
- Science vs Politics at the Edge of the North Pole, By Stephen Leahy (IPS) –June 14, 2009 – “Here we are at the edge of the North Pole where climate change is easier to see…How do we communicate the urgency of our situation?” Tora Aasland, Norway’s minister of research and higher education asked several dozen attendees at a recent high-level symposium…
- The carbon capture conundrum by Nathan VanderKlippe and Shawn McCarthy (Globe & Mail) — In their struggle to soften Canada’s reputation as a source of “dirty oil,” federal and provincial governments have placed a big bet on carbon capture and storage (CCS), with plans to pump more than $3-billion into the technology.
- Dark Green Doomsayers by George F. Will — . An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal… Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.
- Climate Science in a Tornado by George F. Will — Few phenomena generate as much heat as disputes about current orthodoxies concerning global warming… Climate Change Myths and Facts by Chris Mooney, Washington Post / in response to Will’s columns: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation? (Mooney is the author of “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.” )
- Duck and Cover: Climate News Reporting Draws Big, Loud Pushback by: John Wihbey, 1 Dec. 2008 (Yale Forum) — Publish a climate change-related news story, and be ready for pointed attacks, long knives, and brutal dismissals. And expect accusations of political bias and conspiracy.
- Climate Change: Now What? A big beat grows more challenging and complex, By Cristine Russell, CJR Observatory — July / August 2008 Media coverage of climate change is at a crossroads, as it moves beyond the science of global warming into the broader arena of what governments, entrepreneurs, and ordinary citizens are doing about it. Please note the vehemence of the comments at the bottom of page 1. Also note Ron Rosenbaum’s response in Slate magazine. Also Columbia Journalism Review Climate Change Links
Government and Scientific Climate Change Documents:
- Intergovernmental panel on Climage Change — The IPCC is a scientific body: the information it provides with its reports is based on scientific evidence and reflects existing viewpoints within the scientific community.
- Environment Canada – Climate change is real, and it is affecting the environment and health of Canadians.
- US EPA — Analysis of the effects of global change on human health and welfare and human systems
- UNESCO Science policy and sustainable development – Important overview of international science
Some examples of climate change coverage
- Time Magazine – How to win the war on global warming, 2007 “The steady deterioration of the very climate of our planet is becoming a war of the first order…”
- DeSmogBlog — “I didnt go looking for this lesson. But I kept seeing signs that things were out of whack…”
- Empathy Upgrades: New media strikes a deep chord (for environmental advocates), By Bill Kovarik,– Teri Blanton typed her five digit zip code into the web site. Then it hit her. “I was shocked,” she said. The page showed that her own electricity was coming from the very mountaintop removal site that she had fighting for years. As an environmental leader in Berea, Kentucky, Blanton was among the first this fall to try out a new ilovemountains.org web feature showing the link between home electrical use and mountaintop removal mining called “MyConnection.”
Environmental Journalism in the Developing World
- Rescuing reporting in the global South By James Fahn (June 2008) Climate change is a complex subject by any standard, but viewers in Indonesia watching TransTV during the UN conference on climate change in Bali last December must have been especially perplexed by one report on the national network’s news broadcast.
- World Wildlife Foundation views about Environmental Jouralism
- WWF Recommendations on EJ