Three that have sprung up in recent months are, in particular, worth pointing out for their efforts to expand the bounds of what a “Web log” is and what it can do. The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware has launched AllGreenToMe, an interactive blog that mixes database citizen reporting and print-edition science news stories. The Christian Science Monitor’s third science blog, Discoveries, acts as an extension of its print coverage, featuring full-length reported articles. Last but not least, the National Journal invited dozens of politicians, energy company CEOs, and environmental group leaders to join an online discussion of contentious topics in Washington, D.C. for their Experts Blog. In a media climate where science journalism is often seen as expendable, this new wave of blogs is another sign that many editors remain committed to the beat.
“I feel like climate and the environment is the story that many of us in our field are not covering,” said News Journal editor David Ledford. “We need to bring some energy and brainpower to bear on [environmental issues].” To that end, the daily, regional newspaper just launched AllGreenToMe just a few weeks ago. The site rounds up environmental news, policy updates, and research, and provides tip sheets for reducing your carbon footprint and other elements of “green living.” Its most ambitious and innovative element, however, is an interactive environmental monitoring forum.
The forum invites readers to upload photos and videos, post wildlife sightings, and voice environmental concerns and observations. “Watchdog reporting is the bedrock we stand on, and we will continue to gather empirical evidence to determine whether things are getting better or worse [for the environment],” Ledford wrote in a February 22 editorial
announcing the creation of AllGreenToMe. “What gets attention gets improved. Let the observations, brainstorming and discussions begin.”
Ledford hopes that by soliciting readers’ (as well as local scientists’) observations, the News Journal can create a searchable online database on all things environmental in the mid-Atlantic region. Want to track the migratory pattern of a certain bird species? Check the records of sightings. Want to learn the status of regional woodlands? Check for deforestation or planting reports from readers across the state. Want to report suspicious waste or chemical dumping near you? Go right ahead.
“Database reporting is a good way to help people understand what is going on in their communities,” Ledford said in an interview. “Get people talking and sharing ideas about green living and climate [and] I think you’d start seeing some commonality in interests and people with a better understanding of what is going on.”
This isn’t the first time that the News Journal has incorporated reader participation into its reporting and Web site. Approximately four years ago, they created a statewide weather watchers’ network to help the newspaper cover storm events across Delaware. Readers sent in information ranging from rain and snow precipitation rates to which beaches and roads were eroding. According to Ledford, the participatory forum was extremely successful.
“Take that kind of readership involvement beyond weather, to all things environmental, and you have a chance to engage citizenry,” he said. “I understand [environmental news] is a niche. But I also really believe we need to do and do it right. The science journalism we give the reader needs to be good. It needs to have legs, be verifiable. You aren’t going to get anywhere … if you’re not paying attention to the quality of journalism you’re producing.”
Ledford says he rearranged News Journal staff so he could appoint an AllGreenToMe editor devoted to the blog’s beta stage. He credits Gannett, the paper’s owner, for supporting the endeavor, and says he is currently working with a sister paper, the Journal News in Westchester County, New York, to expand the citizen watchdog database. He hopes that the environmental database system will eventually be integrated at all Gannett papers, creating a national map of environmental issues, trends, and concerns. Ledford is also incorporating resources from Gannett’s partners into the site, including a green jobs database built by CareerBuilder.com.