Event: The Crisis in Climate Coverage

For too long media outlets have treated climate change like a policy debate with two equal and opposing sides, even as the vast weight of science has stacked up on one side of the debate. This tendency to equate unequal arguments, to validate inaccuracies and spin, has undoubtedly slowed much-needed progress toward both broader awareness and better policies.

On Feb. 14, Free Press and Orion Magazine are holding an online public forum on the future of climate-change reporting. We are bringing together leading journalists and media makers to discuss concrete actions we can take to foster more accurate and in-depth reporting. Speakers include:

  • Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org
  • Susie Cagle, writer and illustrator for Grist.org
  • Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair of the Heinz Center and creator of the PBS television show Nature
  • M. Sanjayan, lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy and contributor to CBS News science and environment coverage
  • Kate Sheppard, journalist at Mother Jones
  • Wen Stephenson, journalist who "left journalism" to work on climate activism

The event will be held online and over the phone at 4 p.m. EST, and is free and open to all. Click here to register to participate.

It’s critical to have a conversation about the direction climate coverage is headed in. Work on the Keystone XL pipeline is continuing even while the environmentally sensitive route is being contested. Fracking efforts are expanding across the U.S., and oil drilling is on the rise.

On a more positive note, President Obama made climate change a central piece of his inaugural address, and environmental activists are planning to converge on Washington, D.C. at the end of February to demand action. How will these events be covered? Whose voices and stories will be heard?

By all accounts the infrastructure for environmental coverage in the U.S. has been gutted. Media consolidation and drastic newsroom cutbacks have decimated science desks and environmental beats. Inside Climate News recently reported that there are only about a dozen environmental reporters left at the top five papers in the U.S. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, there have been three straight years of declining environmental coverage. And a new study found that celebrity gossip and entertainment stories outnumber environmental reports three to one in mainstream media outlets.

Earlier this month, the New York Times caused a stir when it announced it was dismantling its climate-reporting desk in favor of integrating climate reporting across the newspaper’s diverse beats. This sparked a debate about how best to cover the complex and interwoven issues that make up our climate crisis. And Bill Moyers’ recent interview with Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, illustrated the ways the media have failed to drive home the gravity of the environmental challenges we face.

But the forecast isn't all doom and gloom. Longtime leaders in environmental journalism like Orion and Mother Jones continue to provide essential climate coverage, vibrant experiments like the Climate Desk Collaboration are expanding newsroom capacity for this work and online niche publications like Grist and Environmental Health News are breaking important stories.

The event Free Press and Orion are hosting on Feb. 14 will build on this progress. We'll be drawing on lessons from what is working and creating space for new ideas.

Original photo by Flickr user Charlie Walker

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good