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Climate change: A guide to the information and disinformation

Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)
* Simple Introductions
* Basic Science
* Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Fourth Assessment Report
* Federal Government Programs and Labs
* International Agencies
* Research and Academic Institutions
* Environmental Groups
* Skeptics and Contrarians
* “Creation Care” and Evangelical Views
* Some Help for Sifting Disinformation from Information
* Expert Rolodex: Who Ya Gonna Call?
* Outstanding Coverage
* Further Information
(29 November 2007)
Newly updated. Includes a new section on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its Fourth Assessment Report. From the public portion of the SEJ’s website.

Cold Facts About Cold Facts

Eric de Place, Sightline Institute
I’m anguished. For almost six weeks I’ve been meaning to post on Cold Facts About Our Warm Planet, a four-part TV series from Seattle’s KIRO that you can view online. But I couldn’t decide what I wanted to say.

On the one hand, it’s terrific. The series is some of the best local TV coverage I’ve ever seen on climate. Focusing on disruptions to the Northwest’s natural heritage, it includes great photography, good reporting on a range of issues, and unusually clear explanations of how climate change disrupts snowpack, forests, wildlife, and so on. So there’s that.

On the other hand, some elements stink. I almost stopped watching after minute or two when the narrator intones, “Is it real or is it a hoax?”

A hoax? Seriously?

Are we still doing that? Or is that just what happens when a writer phones in a hackneyed script?

Look, I hate to sound pugnacious — no, really — but in late 2007, framing a climate change series under the banner of “possible hoax” is just stupid. It’s a bit different, I might add, than simply questioning the scientific veracity of global warming. That would a stupid exercise too — for reasons too obvious to point out — but it wouldn’t be nearly as obnoxious as calling it a “hoax.” Is climate change really in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster?

On balance, the series is still worth recommending. (Andrew Engelson also gives it props, over at Washington Trails Association’s blog.) The series includes interviews with many of the best local minds on climate impacts — people like Phil Mote, Nathan Mantua, and Dave Peterson. For network TV, it devotes a remarkable length of time to its subject. And it covers the topic in a way everyone can understand. It’s a heroic effort.

But it also has some glaring flaws, including a jaw-dropping amount of air time devoted to some climate skeptic dude who’s a retired geology professor from Western Washington University. And no, he’s not an atmospheric scientist.

KIRO lets Phil Mote fillet the guy, but it’s just plain bizarre that the script never definitively says that the vast, huge, overwhelming, tidal wave of scientific consensus is with Mote. A typical viewer — the very audience this series is aimed at — could well think that, hey, it’s just one scientist’s word against another’s. Who can say what the truth is?

The answer, of course, is that KIRO can say. And they don’t say it clearly. The result is not balanced journalism, it’s just misinformation. And it’s especially depressing because the series — and the effort behind it — is otherwise brilliant.
(28 November 2007)
Go ahead, Eric, be pugnacious. You are right to point out crappy journalism. There’s a time for being nice and a time for being tough. EB contributor Bill Henderson has just decided to be get a little angry with the climate denialists: Off Course Again. -BA

News reporting faces web challenge, warns New York Times editor

Stephen Brook, Guardian
Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, tonight issued a stark warning that the supply of reliable news reporting is dwindling despite the internet-driven worldwide information explosion.

Delivering this year’s Hugo Young memorial lecture to an audience at Chatham House in London, Keller said that the gravest danger to the future of newspapers was not political pressure, nor the “acid rain” of criticism from the blogosphere or new technology upending the business model.

“It is a loss of faith, a failure of resolve on the part of the people who make newspapers.”

Keller said that bloggers, internet search engines and satirical talk shows had blossomed across the world but could never replace reporting.
(29 November 2007)
Full text of speech is also posted. See next item.

Not dead yet: the newspaper in the days of digital anarchy

Bill Keller, executive editor, New York Times via The Guardian
And then there is the business of our business. As has been widely reported, many daily newspapers are staggering from an exodus of subscribers, a migration of advertisers to the web, and the rising costs of just about everything. Newspapers are closing bureaus and hollowing out their reporting staffs.

At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, “How are you?” in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.

A journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, named Philip Meyer, has done some studies about the decline of American newspaper readership. His extrapolation of the data shows that, if newspapers do nothing to change their ways, they will lose their very last reader in the year 2044. In October, if you want to mark your calendars.

On the stock exchanges, the value of newspaper shares has declined. Of the dwindling number of quality titles in the US, several are being bought up by new owners who seem completely free of nostalgia for the idea of journalism as a public trust.

It is possible to find a silver lining in the fact that billionaires are lining up to buy newspapers. Sam Zell, the colourful real estate mogul who is in the midst of acquiring a proud chain that includes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, recently told an interviewer, “All I can tell you is that for a dead industry with no future, there are an awful lot of schmucks who want to take it away from me!” As a shareholder, I’d like to take heart from that thought, but as an editor I’ll wait until I see what Mr Zell and his peers actually do with their new trophies.

…And I would argue that in this clattering, interconnected, dangerous world, journalism that cuts through the noise has never been needed more.

… something is happening out there, and if we don’t understand it, it’s not just the newspaper business that is in peril.

And at this time of desperate need for reliable news reporting, the supply is dwindling.

That may sound like a strange thing to say in the age of ‘too much Information’. You turn on your computer and there is a media tsunami: blogs, Google News, RSS feeds, social sites like MySpace and file-sharing programs like YouTube. You can harvest it from around the world. You can customize it. You can have it delivered to your cell phone. You know where many thousands of younger readers go these days to follow breaking news stories? They go – or at least they are sent by search engines – to Wikipedia, an online, communal encyclopaedia written and edited by ¡ well, essentially written and edited by any passerby who wants to log on and contribute.

My friend Jeff Jarvis, a blogger of long-standing and professor of journalism at the City University of New York – refers to news bloggers as “citizen journalists”, which has a sweet, idealistic ring to it. Jeff, like many of the most ardent true believers in the blog revolution, suggests that the mainstream media can be largely replaced by a self-regulating democracy of voices, the wisdom of the crowd.

It is certainly true that technology has lowered the barriers to entry in the news business. The old joke that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one is now largely inoperative. Freedom of the press now belongs to anyone with an Internet Service Provider. This is all unsettling to the traditional news business, but it is also an opportunity.

…So, our first and most important advantage is that we [print newspapers] have journalists in the field. And the other is that we have a rigorous set of standards. We have a code of accuracy and fairness we pledge to uphold, a high standard of independence we defend at all costs, and a structure of editorial supervision to enforce our standards.

…There is one other priceless thing a company like the Times provides, and that is an institutional bulwark against powerful forces that would tame or silence us.
(29 November 2007)
Long speech by the executive editor of the New York Times on the State of the Print Media. Must reading for news junkies and anyone who wants to understand how journalism works.