FOR THE WEEK OF JULY 21, 2008
Some environment 'news' can pollute your brain
Now that you read with a more critical eye, try to spot buzzword clichés or questionable statements in environmental coverage.
Length limits can lead reporters to oversimplify complex issues or omit clear explanations of scientific topics. Do you have unanswered questions after reading a selected article on the environment or another technical subject?
Balance is important in all news coverage. See if you sense a tilt toward one side in an article about an environmental risk, cleanup or trend.
Our planet's big environmental issues are deeper and more detailed than newspaper, magazine or TV reports typically can address in a meaningful way. But that doesn't stop reporters and editors from typing - and from possibly confusing or misleading news consumers.
Even some insiders are concerned about "whiplash journalism," as New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin recently described the back-and-forth volleys of optimistic news and dire warnings. A media journal published by Columbia University quotes Revkin as criticizing this cycle of "new hope" and "no hope" stories - such as reports that we'll see more hurricanes because of global warming, followed by studies saying we won't.
A related problem, according to critics of quick-hit environmental journalism, is the popularity of buzzwords like "inconvenient truth," "green," "clean coal" and "tipping point." Overuse, including by companies that embrace "green" for image polishing, can make readers cynical and numb to actual news, Columbia Journalism Review suggested this summer. Its article is headlined "Five Inconvenient Truths of Environmental Journalism."
Reporter says: "The never-ending search by some editors and reporters for 'bad guys' or villains to explain environmental problems is simplistic." -- Tim Wheeler of The Baltimore Sun, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists
Article writer says: "Deadline pressure can lead editors to push through a story with a sexy hook like the imminent danger of chemicals in the water supply, without discussion of how little we know about environmental chemical exposure." - David Downs, author of Columbia Journalism Review study
Reader says: "I'm confused and a little fed up with the often contradictory messages out there on how to live lightly on the earth. I'm a little overwhelmed." -- Mary Burnham, quoted in New York Times article on "green noise"
Front Page Talking Points Archive