Trouble in Paradise? Who Would Know?

Compare the amount of reporting on Sean Taylor's death and the disappearance of Stacy Peterson with what you've heard about the ongoing climate talks in Bali. At the moment, thousands of representatives from some 190 countries are gathered in Indonesia under the auspices of the United Nations to hammer out the framework for an international climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Don't blame yourself if you didn't know that though, because the story has received relatively meager coverage from TV news and the papers. Sure, there was a modest amount of perfunctory coverage when the conference kicked off on Sunday – but easier just to reach for the nearest wire story. The conservative Washington Times and the London Times, never friends of rational environmental policy, did run two stories on Bali, but with the goal of diminishing the proceedings rather than explaining them. The media blackout has been so thorough in comparison to the much-publicized Montreal talks in 2005, that even the conference's official blog has fallen silent.

There are some obvious practical reasons for the dearth of coverage – the conference's location, for one. While many reporters would be happy to report from a vacation paradise like Bali, the monetary and environmental cost to fly halfway around the world is pretty steep. That's part of the reason why coverage is so lacking compared to Montreal. The conference is further at a disadvantage because it's maybe the least sexy subject matter for a reporter to face: Covering massive bureaucratic assemblies is hardly the reason anyone sends in applications to journalism school.

But there are plenty of angles reporters could take on the Bali meeting that could suggest to readers what is at stake. Anything the UN does is almost by definition a slow-breaking story, but there are always creative ways to approach any topic. The conference offers a handy news peg for general discussion of global warming, for one thing, and could be an ideal excuse to push presidential contenders on their views about international climate agreements—the next president will have to deal with the aftermath of Kyoto one way or another. Or journalists could hang stories on the conference that might never be run otherwise, as this Times reporter did.


There have been some smart approaches taken to reporting the talks, for instance this AP wire  weaving together the events in Bali with developments much closer to home; and an ABC News report on Sunday that argued for the importance of the meetings as a matter of national security. But more often than not, sensation and celebrity remain the two biggest factors in what stories get play. That's a sad fact of journalism, but at least it means there'll be plenty of attention paid when Gore and Schwarzenegger hold their own climate forum scheduled for later this month.