Copenhagen’s “Climate Pool”

Eleven international news agencies launch Facebook blog

The Associated Press and ten other international news agencies have launched “The Climate Pool,” a Facebook page that they hope will help readers to interact with journalists covering the climate-change summit in Copenhagen, which starts Monday. Come on in, they seem to be saying, the water is… getting warmer.

Actually, it’s getting hot, and kind of ridiculous. The pool had 1,875 “fans” at press time, but many of their first comments in the fans section of the Facebook page are irrational posts about “Climategate,” the controversy surrounding a large cache of e-mails hacked from University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. While we would therefore advise looking past the initial nonsense in The Climate Pool’s fans section, however, the comments are indicative of another problem.

Turning these digital media hubs into meaningful nexuses between journalists and reporters is very difficult. I asked AP science reporter Seth Borenstein, one of six journalists the agency is sending to Copenhagen, whether or not he’ll have the time to both cover what is sure to be a hectic conference and engage with readers at The Climate Pool. Here is his response:

AP is sending such a deep and experienced pool of reporters to Copenhagen—Charles Hanley, Art Max, John Heilprin, Michael Casey, Jan Olsen and myself—that we can handle the interaction and blogging that will fuel The Climate Pool, just as my colleagues covering the Washington confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor last summer also engaged readers via a special AP blog on Yahoo! News with its own dedicated Twitter feed. In fact, more of this kind of interaction can be expected from AP, going forward.

In Copenhagen, one of us will take the lead each day in interacting for the six of us. I’m looking forward to my turn. And if that’s not enough, we have an incredibly deep pool of reporters around the world with expertise who can interact from their offices, specifically environment writer Dina Cappiello and energy writer Joe Hebert, come to mind. And finally, when I go to cover an event like this, all I do is work, sleep and eat. So I’ll have the time to interact.

I also asked Borenstein whether or not he expects to receive any useful “suggestions on what to cover,” an objective mentioned in the AP’s own article about The Climate Pool and its goals. Again, his response:

This is an experiment for us. I’m confident that the interaction itself will be useful. And in terms of suggestions to cover, I’m not so egotistical to think I have a monopoly on good ideas. The more people you invite to brainstorm, the more ideas—good and bad—you get. I’ll take more ideas—good and bad—over fewer ideas any day. I think this is the future of journalism and we should shape it rather than fear it.

We hope, of course, that the interactive side of The Climate Pool produces interesting discussion, story tips, source references, and more. Even if it doesn’t, however, the “Wall,” or main page, of the Facebook hub is bound to be an excellent source of information. It acts, for all intents and purposes, like a collaborative blog for the eleven news agencies involved (most of whom, it seems, do not have their own), and readers will be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive collection of international perspectives about Copenhagen anywhere online. For example, there are already a number of interesting posts about what the summit will bring for polar bears and climate refugees, as well as climate-science and climate-politics updates from Lebanon to Indonesia.

Around 200 nations are expected to participate in the Copenhagen climate summit. In addition to the AP, also participating in The Climate Pool are: Agence France-Presse, ANP of the Netherlands, APA of Austria, APcom of Italy, Canadian Press, dpa of Germany, Kyodo of Japan, Lusa of Portugal, Press Association of the United Kingdom and RIA of Russia. MINDS International, a global news agency network, is coordinating the project.

The AP’s article notes that:

Such projects present a balancing act for the participating news agencies. They want to provide a compelling read, but they don’t want to compete directly with the other media companies to which they sell stories, photos and multimedia.

The AP, for instance, is a cooperative jointly owned by about 1,500 member newspapers, some of which will have their own reporters in Copenhagen.

[AP director of strategic planning Jim] Kennedy said the agencies will blog only behind-the-scenes information that wouldn’t ordinarily end up in their main stories. And they will use the blog to highlight and link to coverage from other outlets. The agency reporters might also post interviews with journalists from other organizations covering the event.

Without a doubt, The Climate Pool should be a top bookmark/favorite on the browsers of those following the Copenhagen summit closely.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.