The trout and drought piece will be part of an “occasional series” series at PBS. Climate Central is already putting the finishing touches on its next installment, about how growing biofuels is changing land use practices in Iowa. The broadcasts are collaborations between the two organizations. Linda Winslow, the NewsHour’s executive producer, said she was very pleased with the finished project and with Climate Central’s hard work, which involved a trip back to Montana, upon the program’s request, to get additional material. Though she was “somewhat dubious” when the group approached her because the NewsHour does not have much experience in such partnerships, and relying on outside content was a “big departure” for the program, the benefits were clear.
The NewsHour has half a dozen “core staff” that are responsible for covering science and health full or part-time, but “we lack the resources to go out into the field with a camera crew and fly around the country,” Winslow said. In that respect, Climate Central is providing a valuable service that helps the NewsHour “visualize” stories and meets its editorial standards. And two local radio stations, including an NPR affiliate, interviewed Cullen about climate change in Montana.
Yet the relatively long features it is producing for PBS are not what Climate Central wants to focus on in the long run, or where it thinks it can do the most good. Because the majority of Americans get their information from nightly news programs, the team wants to partner with local television stations directly to produce shorter broadcasts that are also radio and podcast ready.
Seventy-second spots should be organization’s “bread and butter,” said Climate Central executive producer Charles Lyons. With a public broadcasting station in Cleveland, Climate Central is starting to develop “Climate Minutes” for television and radio in northeastern Ohio that would also have “direct feeds” into local classrooms. Ideally, Lyons explained, the local producers would take the “driver’s seat” in guiding content, and Climate Central would provide scientific information, expertise, and high-end “visualizations” (i.e graphics) of climate data, trends, and forecasts. Cullen added that they also hope to develop relationships with local meteorologists. (Cullen stirred up a controversy in 2006 when she suggested that meteorologists who “can’t speak” about the fundamentals of climate science should not be given American Meteorological Society credentials, but she nonetheless stresses their importance as most people’s “gateway to science.”)
Climate Central is also building up a print operation under Michael Lemonick, who covered science for Time magazine for twenty-two years. Lemonick recently published a superbly nuanced article about the climate’s sensitivity to carbon emissions in a special issue of Scientific American, and is now working on a number of other magazine assignments. But like TV, he said, the idea is to eventually “reach readers that aren’t as knowledgeable” about climate by contributing to local newspapers, which are rapidly losing the expertise and resources to cover such technical stories.
Though Climate Central hopes to find partners that are willing to share production costs, the organization is partially funded for several years to come and does not charge for its stories or services. Seed money came from the Flora Family Foundation, but the majority of Climate Central’s operational budget comes The 11th Hour Project, a group focused on “raising public awareness about global warming and promoting sustainable solutions to climate change.” Wendy Schmidt, the project’s president, sits on Climate Central’s board members with Princeton’s Pacala and Oregon State University’s Jane Lubchenco.
Although the organization is new, the idea has been gestating since 2005, when participants at a climate conference in Aspen resolved to try and do something to improve the quantity and quality of climate coverage. In 2007, Berrien Moore III, who left his job running the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire, signed on as the group’s first operational director. Climate Central’s first official meeting took place in a Starbucks Coffee shop in Princeton between Moore, Cullen, Lyons, and staff scientist Ben Strauss. The group rapidly expanded to its current size after that, moving into its offices last June.
“I actually think this is the future of science journalism – non-profit partnerships providing independent and syndicated science coverage,” said Matthew Nisbet, an associate professor of communications at American University who studies communications between journalists, scientists, and the public. “We need to build up the infrastructure to adapt to climate change and the media should be thought of as an important part piece of that infrastructure.”