Science & environmental journalism history

Exploring the historiography of science and environmental journalism
By Bill Kovarik   

Presented at the Joint Journalism and Communications History Conference, NYU, March 11, 2017

This introduces work in progress to survey existing histories of science and environmental journalism from analytical and bibliographic perspectives.  The basic proposition is that more historical scholarship in science and environmental journalism is needed since there are gaps and omissions in the historical record.

Until recently, these gaps would not be seen as highly significant; many areas of history are relatively neglected.  However, a number of historical issues have come up in the context of modern political disputes over science and environmental journalism, and these reflect a  lack of systematic approaches to the history of this area.  This paper gives several examples of these issues, including a 2015  “discovery” of a series of century-old  CO2-induced climate change articles, and a conservation historian’s thesis that economic hardship lessens concern about the environment.

Only a few 20th century historians have surveyed the field of science and environmental  communication, as noted in the bibliography.  In many cases the focus is on traditional figures in environmental science and history, such as Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold,  rather than journalists working within the larger structure of the mass media.   Examples of neglected figures might include (for example) writers like Waldemar Kampffert, Howard Blakeslee, or Gobind Bahiri Lal, and editors such as Carr Van Anda, Walter Lippmann, or E.W. Scripps.

Most of the recent historical scholarship (including one book co-authored by this presenter)  provides theory-driven episodic perspectives rather than  systematic fact-driven perspectives.  However, a broadening of the history of science and environment journalism is now easier given the accessibility, deductive scope and analytical advantages of full text periodical databases.


Sharon M. Friedman, Sharon Dunwoody, Carol L. Rogers, Scientists and Journalists: Reporting Science as News. New York. The Free Press, 1984.
Craig L. LaMay and Everette E. Dennis, Media and the Environment, Washington DC, Island Press, 1991
Mark Neuzil and William Kovarik, Mass Media and Environmental Conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996.
Mark Neuzil. The Environment and the Press: From Adventure Writing to Advocacy. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008.
Bob Wyss, Covering the Environment: How Journalists Work the Green Beat, New York: Routledge, 2008, 2017



(More to be posted in coming days. Thanks — BK)