In Michigan, the Detroit News has done an admirable job of pushing candidates on local issues, especially the effects of anti-global warming policies on the automobile industry. The Detroit Free Press published the typical candidate round-up story in January, however, and when it tried to narrow the lens, it ran into the same obstacles as other regional papers. According to an article from early January, “Environmental issues important to the Great Lakes are getting little respect and few commitments from presidential candidates.” The paper had sent questionnaires to the eight leading candidates at the time, asking about things like water use and conservation around the lakes; only Mitt Romney responded. (Interestingly enough, the Indianapolis Star published an Associated Press article yesterday about Obama getting involved in a local pollution dispute, but the piece did not get into how the senator’s actions could affect his campaign or voter attitudes about the dispute).


Still, the Freep deserves credit for trying. A situation analogous to the threatened Great Lakes exists in Florida with the Everglades. Many Floridians have been counting on federal conservation support despite some reports that such measures won’t do any good, but a LexisNexis search failed to turn up any local coverage that even attempted to press the candidates on that controversy. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell (in a chicken-and-egg like way) why state-specific environmental issues have not received greater attention: is the lack of attention greatest among candidates, voters, or the media?


In early February, the The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed one Utah resident, Shelly Marshall, who said it was the candidates’ problem: “To Marshall, the big issues of our time-the economy, health care and energy-all come back to smart environmental policies. She has made a point of following the presidential primaries this year, but she is not hearing enough about environmental issues, such as energy and climate change.” That is “puzzling,” the paper wrote, given global warming and energy issues’ “explosion” into the public consciousness over the last year, but then again, the lack of attention could be a “matter of timing:”


Matthew Burbank, a political scientist at the University of Utah, said Westerners might have expected to draw more attention to the subject as part of a regional primary. But creation of the Super Tuesday primary dashed that hope.


The actual explanation is more likely a mix of variables: the public taking a new, but probably only secondary or tertiary interest in environmental issues; the candidates, as per usual, avoiding getting boxed into specifics; and the press (given the first two obstacles) failing to seek out sources capable of connecting general, national positions to local issues. Since CJR is focused on the press’s role in things, it seems reasonable to expect local media to do all they can to find creative solutions whenever politics or apathy get in the way of important stories.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.