Five Problems With Environmental Reporting

Columbia Journalism Review assesses field's common trouble spots
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2008 5:15 AM CDT
A handful of corn is shown before it is processed at the Tall Corn Ethanol plant in Coon Rapids, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, file)
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(Newser) – If you’re flummoxed by ever-shifting information on climate change and the environment, just think what the folks who report it must be going through. Deadline pressures and conflicting scientific papers have reporters struggling to provide editors with sellable stories, the Columbia Journalism Review reports, and the results don’t always accurately represent the issue. CJR nails five big issues with environmental journalism:

  • Brevity: Sports readers know what an RBI is, but general readers must be reminded about PCBs. That can take up space and dumb down articles.
  • Deadlines: Harried editors sometimes push through stories with sexy hooks (here come pythons!), while nuance and context take a back seat.
  • Ping-pong reports: Reporters tend to present the latest scientific paper as a consensus, even though a contradictory report is probably just around the bend.
  • Sources: Just because someone is talkative doesn't mean you have to listen.
  • Buzzwords: Phrases such as "green" and "tipping point" get overused, making readers numb and cynical about the rest of the story.