On the Beat

Getting the Candidates On Record, Part 1

Election coverage is notoriously spotty on what's usually referred to unappealingly as "the issues." In part, this is because comparing the candidates' records on policy specifics is a lot harder and duller than checking the latest poll numbers and writing another horse-race article. Everyone is ill served by such lazy journalism, but environmentalists are particularly bad off. While most candidates pay lip service to the importance of capping greenhouse gas emissions, the environment rarely appears in campaign ads or stump speeches. It's an issue political journalists need to force the candidates on, which they rarely do.

Now, with the Iowa caucuses fast approaching and both parties' nominations up in the air, it seems less and less likely that the press will devote the time and resources to finding out where the candidates stand on environmental issues. Fortunately, the subject hasn't gone entirely ignored so far, and there has been some reporting on the topic, from radio interviews to online special reports to newspaper articles, all ranging from the perfunctory to the comprehensive.

Continue reading Getting the Candidates On Record, Part 1

Sell the Message, Not the Monkey

Covering the environment is generally tougher than, say, your standard crime story or traffic accident, thanks in part to the fact that green topics are often complex, slow-moving, and unsexy. But smart environmental journalists know they have least one ace to play in a pinch: cute animals.

There's a long tradition of parading out appealing animals like pandas, polar bears, and primates in order to educate the public about conservation and the environment. These so-called "charismatic megafauna" offer a convenient mascot and instant news pegs (monkey footage!) for topics from species extinction to habitat destruction to global warming. Ecologists might lament the fact that the public cares more about tigers than it does the dozens of endangered species of snails, but until that changes, such attention-grabbing animals can offer reporters a handy foothold from which to approach bigger environmental issues.

Continue reading Sell the Message, Not the Monkey

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.

Continue reading Trouble in Paradise? Who Would Know?

Probing the Roots of Catastrophe, Part II

Recently, I wrote about the press' responsibility to investigate the underlying causes of disasters like the flame-up of wildfires in Southern California last month. In recent months, another growing problem has arisen. While not as dramatic or immediately threatening as the fires, this issue could be just as consequential for another heavily populated region of the country.

Record droughts have been drying out the Southeast, depleting reservoirs to the point that Georgia declared a state of emergency, and the governors of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia came together to iron out a water-sharing agreement. Things have gotten so bad that Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue even held a prayer service a few weeks ago beseeching God for rain. The national press has picked up the story over the past month, but have reporters looked beyond the fact that there's been less precipitation this year to ask what deeper factors could have caused this crisis to develop?

Continue reading Probing the Roots of Catastrophe, Part II

The New Green Lady

When The New York Times redesigned its website in 2005, drastically improving its appearance and accessibility, it sent a signal that the paper of record was committed to journalism on the Internet. Two years later, its site remains one of the best-looking and easiest-to-use of any major newspaper. Between ending the ill-conceived TimesSelect program and better integrating blogs and multimedia, the Times has demonstrated that it might stumble on the way to the web, but it's getting there. Fortunately for readers concerned about how humans are helping and harming the earth, the paper's online growth has included an expansive home for green reporting on the web, edging out the competition in terms of depth and breadth of coverage.

Continue reading The New Green Lady

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Issue 25

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