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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

Why is daily news and consideration of our natural habitat missing from our ever-expanding daily news diet?

Why questions, I am reminded, are dangerous, especially in journalism. First of all they elicit argument, as asking why presumes the observation is true, or the question a judgment rather than an observation. Why did you run over the cat in the street elicits “Who said I did?” and Why is there a dead cat in the street? is too often solved with “I dunno…” because the possible answers are too many to narrow down in the few seconds devoted to the answer. Environmental news coverage has suffered from the same malady.

In a Gallup survey compilation (it’s unclear what year it was compiled) on paying attention to news stories a week after the event, while 97% of Americans were paying very/somewhat close attention to stories like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or Princess Diana’s death, only 41% were paying very/somewhat close attention to “biotechnology and modifications to food”. More importantly, other than the occasional weather event (Katrina) or the Asian tsunami of 2005, or a brief discussion of the XL pipeline or biotech, there were no other news stories on biodiversity loss, the environment, climate change or water/food issues even making the 200+story list by Gallup!

Why questions are also the last answered in journalism, after who, what, when, and where, and thus don’t normally make it into ‘normal’ fast headline news anyway.

According to Slate last year, fewer than half of people who arrive at a story at their website continue reading past the first scroll and 10% don’t scroll at all – which means never make it past the first 4 paragraphs.  And if there’s a photo at the top (to draw you in) it’s likely you are getting only the first two lines before hopping off elsewhere.  We’ve become a nation of skimmers.  And visually hooked skimmers at that. (Thanks Farhad! Great article!)

Four paragraphs doesn’t leave much room for discussion of interrelated issues and consequences, such as those covering the environment, the biosphere, our habitat, or even the connections between climate and extraordinary weather events as this winter’s weather (drought in the southern hemisphere; heavy snows and gales in the northern) might give us pause to wonder about.  To me that means we need Why questions at the top, lots of photos, cute or otherwise, and the news of our habitat place in front of us everywhere.

I’ll put a cute picture here in the hope you’ll keep reading…

© Lee Karney/USFWS

© Lee Karney/USFWS

 

Actually two lines or four paragraphs doesn’t really give room for most kinds of news reporting other than what Neiman is now calling ‘solutions’ reporting, which includes not only why but how can we fix/solve/ resolve/become engaged in the story or its outcome.

This ‘solutions reporting’ kind of journalism is something we tried 2 decades ago at our award-winning environmental magazine Buzzworm. Not wanting to leave readers sad or discouraged at the end of our (ahem) 2500 – 5000 word articles replete with beautiful photography to entice our readers into our written coverage, we included what any reader, even you, could do to make a difference in the issue. It became a popular and engaging form of environmental journalism.

By the end of our run, most major daily newspapers had an ‘environment beat’ as well as a weekly section devoted to coverage of the issues.  Phil Shabecoff, in his article on the environmental beat for the Neiman Foundation backs up my experiential impression (Thanks, Phil, great article). Data gathered by the Pew Trust’s Excellence in Journalism and reported in the Columbia Journalism Review noted environmental stories were less than 1% of the entire mainstream news coverage.

Granted, major dailies do cover bits of our environment on their websites, yet much of these issues are still covered only in niche readerships – one must find it and click on it, rather than have it thrust into in plain view on a headlines page.  Nonetheless, bother to click on today’s Environment page at The New York Times, and the first 6 headlines should give you pause if not a chill or two: To wit: 2013 one of the warmest years on record( no, really!); bee deaths appear to be from a virus that rapidly mutates to tobacco and soy as well (gasp, a world without cigarettes or tofu or beef feed); a new leak at a Japanese nuclear reactor; and our 30-year-old war against the killing of rhinos seems to be lost.  That’s all above the scroll, too.

Of course, I applaud these news outlets that do provide coverage; I just wish it were part of the daily diet of headline importance at the main page, especially in America.  Apparently the Pew study, too, noted that the average reader is still not being served a daily offering of news on the health of our life-sustaining habitat news. I put it this way, as most ask me “why” when I mention I have devoted my professional writing-life to covering the environment. The ‘life-sustaining habitat’ part sometimes gets their attention while the ‘environment’ does not.

And I marvel at how much is not said on the daily local evening news, where weather events are often covered as breaking news. I’m told some local weathercasters would like to include the connections of weather to environment, climate change, air and water quality, but that it seems to just not go with the rapid one-line flow of crime, business corruption, traffic and sports, and as such are told to stick to weather, as it is the main reason people even bother to tune in to local broadcast news anymore.

And this is the point: as long as issues of our habitat are not placed in front of us on a daily basis, we reside in silent ignorance of the consequences for our only home and life-sustaining Earth, until the day dawns that we jump from crisis to crisis, wondering how we got here.

I’ll put another picture here, in the hope that you’ll scroll down to read the last of this missive. . . .

 

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

 

Is an extreme weather-event news? Yes. Should we ask ‘Why’ there seem to be so many of them these last few years? Yes, if we want to have a hope of responding intelligently in the years to come, whether locally or globally.

Is the loss and change of our habitat’s biodiversity globally news that we might connect to our local habitats with good reporting? Yes, as such loss portends effects everyone’s well-being. Not only should we ask why, but doing so an opportunity to inform on the consequences able to be anticipated and thus met. Biodiversity loss is ultimately a loss of quality of life story as any habitat crisis story is (such as the polluted W, Virginia water crisis story last week), but it is also an economic story, a business story, a crime story and a social equity story. And it’s something we can take action on, locally as well as internationally. Many of our large predators and vast tracks of wilderness would be long gone if those somewhere else in the world had not been informed and raised their voices in care and concern.

Why questions can beget understanding; sometimes it takes more than 4 paragraphs or the first couple of lines if I’ve put a photo at the top to draw you in. Considering the care of our only habitat  — the only one we have and which sustains our life — is perhaps the most important story.

Why?

For it is our life-support system.  If it’s in our daily view, it’s thus able to be among our heart-felt considerations of what is important to us and to our children today and tomorrow. Then we have time to ask why questions and to take good, life-sustaining actions.

 

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