Arguably a more significant concern than where the energy coverage is based is the need to bolster the scientific expertise in newsrooms. Given limited resources, reporters who can cover energy and environment, as well as the costs of energy legislation and technological feasibility of meeting its targets, are valuable assets. “If you don’t have basic economics and science, then you’ll be playing catch up for a long time,” says ClimateWire’s John Fialka. “Washington is knee-deep in reporters who reduce everything to politics.”
But perhaps the most important thing for journalists to bring to this new energy beat is the right mindset. The shift from fossil fuels to clean energy is not a series of isolated stories. It is a national story and a global story. What happens in Texas, for instance, doesn’t stay in Texas—it is part of a vast western and U.S. energy problem, and it is intimately connected to what happens in China and India. (Indeed, the international stage is where much of the energy story is currently happening, and that creates different challenges for newsrooms. National papers have stepped up coverage of China and India’s energy agendas in anticipation of the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen this December, where world leaders hope to draft a treaty limiting worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions.)
It is a story, too, that will require patience and perseverance as the social currents surrounding it and political leadership driving it change. The world cannot afford for America to abandon energy reform as it did in the 1980s. “It is one of the most important things that we all need to be covering right now,” says the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Baker. “And we’ll need to stay on top of it for years and years to come.” If the Clean Energy and Security Act becomes law—even if its provisions are not as robust as environmentalists would like—the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy will require a profound socioeconomic change that will play out over decades. News outlets will be responsible for analyzing and reporting its impact on everyone and everything from ExxonMobil to small businesses, from the Department of Energy to the local public utilities commission. At every level, there will be opportunities to investigate whether all the effort is, in fact, creating jobs, promoting energy security, and protecting the environment.
Energy is the quintessential twenty-first-century story, and covering it well will require newsrooms to think strategically and creatively about how to use the resources available to them, both within and beyond their newsrooms.