“There are no rewards for going rogue as an energy reporter,” she said, adding that the consequences range from not being able to get that next interview to having an editor refuse to run a controversial story. Moreover, there is a general aversion to reporting that things are really wrong. The media has a propensity for what Margonelli called “Jules Verne-ism,” or running stories about cool new advances in renewable energy (think floating wind turbines) over ones about how difficult it will be is to wean ourselves off oil and coal.
But as the professional media continues to shrink, Margonelli said, there will be an opportunity for others to create Web sites, even if they are advocacy oriented, which focus exclusively on energy and cultivate a more engaged following. “We need concerned constituencies,” she said, pointing to ASPO-USA as a model. “You have people doing citizen journalism, and an audience that’s much more tolerant of complexity.”
The need for more targeted publications and Web sites was the main point made by panelist Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and author of Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis.
Although he has no formal training in journalism or the oil industry, Heinberg has become an important voice in energy circles and focuses much of his time on helping the public understand the global energy crisis.
“High oil prices create a window of opportunity, a teachable moment,” Heinberg said, adding that organizations like ASPO-USA need to invest in robust Web sites that address the major objections set forth by peak-oil skeptics. He also applauded sites like RealClimate.org as examples of reliable, action-oriented information.
Outside the meeting, however, the giant chickens continued to distribute their own information: copies of a New York Times op-ed from September headlined, “‘Peak Oil’ is a Waste of Energy.” During the question-and-answer session, Maass indirectly dismissed their techniques, arguing that it is better to focus on making a strong, independent case about the limitations of our oil supply than to worry about responding to skepticism.
The realistic—if not discouraging—conclusions made by these panelists shed light on the media’s diminishing capacity to be all things to all people, ostensibly inspiring a new wave of citizen journalism. But with so many partisan voices jumping into the debate right now, one wonders if anybody should be sanguine about the future of energy coverage.