How well have journalists covered climate change?

I was on a pretty thoughtful panel discussion, “The Media, the Scientists and the Planet,” broadcast on TV Ontario.

The other guests on The Agenda with Steve Paikin included Curtis Brainard, who critiques science and environment reporting for the Columbia Journalism Review, Walter Russell Mead, who is Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, and everybody’s favorite Canadian energy and technology columnist, the Toronto Star’s Tyler Hamilton.

Here is the hour-long video:

The other two guests were Nicola Jones, Science Journalist in Residence at the UBC School of Journalism, who also acts as a commissioning editor for the Opinion section of the Nature Network, and Quentin Chiotti, a senior climate change scientist and senior director of Atmospheric Issues at Pollution Probe.

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10 Responses to How well have journalists covered climate change?

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    A (but not an “A”) Grade

    I haven’t listened to the show yet, and I’ll look forward to doing so.

    But, if the panelists from the media (or from organizations that are supposed to follow and evaluate the media) have given the media anything better than a Dismal Dysfunctional D-minus grade — indeed, a performance that is facilitating Disaster — then they have missed something important.

    If so, perhaps they are missing the vital importance of the climate change problem? Or, perhaps they are missing the supposed (and very vital) role that the news media especially are supposed to play in society (to actually facilitate the public good and help the public achieve the public good)? Or, perhaps they have “missed the boat” by misunderstanding the actual potential for human communication when it’s done well, vigorously, and in concert with the importance of the issue involved?

    So we’ll see. If they assign a D-minus grade, then they may actually “get it”. If not, we can try to assess what part of the picture they don’t get.



  2. climate undergrad says:

    You killed it Joe. I wish you could’ve handled the ‘skeptic vs. cynic’ conversation, and gotten a little more time to discuss the gap between media coverage and informed opinion (i.e. that the real ‘balanced’ debate is between terribly bad and unmitigated catastrophe), but this was a great spot with ample climateprogress plugs.

  3. Ben Lawson says:

    I haven’t seen this episode yet, but Steve Paikin is pretty clued-in…

  4. Wes Rolley says:

    In total, it was excellent. Still, when Joe says that “people who want to find a lot more information can do so on the internet” it ignores the fact that people will seek out that “information” which confirms their own biases. They will talk to and listen to those with whom they already agree. One only has to look at the number of “denialist” comments posted to any of the good coverage of complex issues in the blogosphere.

    You can find other blogs that cover specific industries or issues with at least the same standard that Joe employs were at Climate Progress. Ken Ward Jr.’s Coal Tattoo comes to mind, providing sound journalistic coverage of the coal industry and its impacts on climate, economy, ecology and politics. But, read the comments and attacks which sound like every subject has it’s own denialist coterie.

    So, the problem is not to convince the denialsts, but rather how to reach a public that is increasingly skeptical and, frankly, is you pay attention to the “most viewed” criteria at online mass media sites, the old adage that “if it bleeds, it leads” tells you what they are most apt to read. Yet, this very large group of unconcerned media consumers will be the most likely voters in the 2010 congressional elections.

  5. paulm says:

    Did excellent job. Keep pushing the real message ie the facts and the emergency!

  6. Lou Grinzo says:


    I think a lot of people are definitely missing the urgency of our situation. Climate change presents us with a problem that’s almost perfectly designed to be a tough climb for non-experts. It involves very long time frames and gradual change, and the possibility of being locked into a horrific outcome long before we’re seeing “big” impacts (at least as judged by non-experts).


    This is what I call the push/pull problem. TV advertising and most news content is a “push” technology–it shows up on your screen (or radio or printed page) automatically unless you take steps to avoid it. Information on the Internet is a “pull” because you have to actively look for it.

    I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who are committed environmentalists yet don’t read any of the usual online sources like TreeHugger or Grist. Many of them have never heard of those sites, let alone the more advanced places like RealClimate.

    When you’re talking about information gathering and not shopping or gambling or the other things mainstreamers use it for, the Internet is largely a confirmation bias tool, not a learning tool. It pains me considerably to say this, as I’ve been involved in what we now call social media since the early 1980s. (It was a massive network of mainframes with discussion forums internal to a corporation.)

  7. Dean says:

    I have to give a tip of the hat to the Canadian media (their version of public TV) for covering the subject so well…(and for putting JR on the program)

  8. Sam says:

    He was trying to interview too many people at the same time, but I think his ears really perked up at what Joe was saying.

  9. Michael T says:

    Here is another episode of that program from last week. They had Richard Lindzen on the panel last week. Lindzen said the reason why this decade was the warmest was because temperatures have been flat with no trend. That doesn’t make any sense.

  10. Chuck Holst says:

    Michael T.: The reason it does make sense is that the 2000s started at a higher level than the 1990s average. If you look at a typical historical temperature graph, you see a rapid rise in temperature over the 1990s, with the 2000s starting at about the warmest temperatures of the 1990s. For the 2000s not to be warmer overall, we would have to have had a decline in the 2000s as rapid as was the rise in the 1990s.