“My job is to tell readers what is happening in science, to provide facts, data, and context,” wrote Seth Borenstein, who covers climate science for the Associated Press, in an email to CJR. “I view myself as a mirror, who also factchecks to provide the most accurate picture of what’s happening. I seek out good and illuminating stories on global warming, which is one of the most important science stories of our time. I do not see my job as trying to influence readers’ views, just inform.”
“If you think just communicating [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] findings more clearly and more frequently is going to do anything, then you’re just missing that whole body of work,” says Andrew Revkin. Revkin, who left the staff of The New York Times in 2009 to become a fellow at Pace University’s Academy for Applied Environmental Studies and write the Dot Earth blog on the opinion side of the Times, says that notion was what led him to shift his career: “Do I want to spend the next 20 years of my life writing good conventional journalism about global warming when I know it’s not effective?”
Others, like Adam Corner, say that the journalistic problem can be ameliorated by better communication at the research end of things—tying a dry release to more compelling science. Corner is a researcher for the Climate Outreach and Information Network, which is in the midst of studying how groups can better retool outreach to resonate with readers.
“There’s a real kind of absence of inspiring programming or engagement to go with all this amazing science we’re producing. Even people that already know about this kind of stuff, if you say the acronym IPCC, they don’t really know what it is,” says Corner.
“It has to do with how politically contentious the issue is,” he says. “If we were writing something about obesity, it would totally feature a family and it would show how obesity has ruined their lives and there would be a box: 10 thing you can do to prevent obesity. And if someone did that about climate change, everyone would say, ‘Oh it’s a piece of activism.’”
Meanwhile, the newly minted “Yale Climate Connections” is hoping that by putting more solutions stories (“without putting a happy face on the issue,” says Ward) and producing and distributing free radio broadcasts from a set of 13 correspondents, five days a week , they’ll be better able to influence and engage.
“I really don’t want to lose what we used to call a ‘class audience’ of professionals,” says Ward. “At the same time, I want to be accessible to that person on the street.”
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