The best way for reporters to bring more clarity to the national dialogue about coal is to engage scientists, rather than activists, as sources. Several groups, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, have called for greater cooperation between scientists and journalists, but acknowledge that the relationship needs work. One session at SEJ’s 2007 conference was entitled “Can This Marriage Be Saved? Why Journalists and Scientists Just Don’t Communicate.”

The energy story is an obvious place for journalists and scientists to strengthen their relationship. Scientists, not advocates, can best explain the realities of clean-coal and green technologies and provide the nuanced picture that so many advocates eschew. 

For further analysis of the coverage of coal fly-ash ponds (“From Fly Ash to ‘Clean Coal’: National media slow to expand upon excellent, local reporting after recent spills,” February 20, 2009) and other discussions on science and environment news, please visit The Observatory at


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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.