Date:  June 23

Media and Environment
Tonight our topic is “Media and the Environment,” and we talk with Diedre Pike, who is both a practicing journalist and former editor of the Reno News and Review as well as a professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. We’ll ask her about her about how the media portray environmental issues and about what environmental activists can do to get their message out to the world.
Media and Environment: The Issues

The first amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of the press:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights further guarantees the rights of expression and explicitly the right to send and receive ideas via unfiltered or uncensored news media:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
However, such statements do not grant anyone access to the press or guarantee that what comes to us through the press is unbiased, unfiltered, or unadulterated. Such problems get to the heart of journalism ethics and are especially noticeable in the field of environmental journalism.

from the writings from environmentalist and photographer Mark Meyers, blogging on events last August at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. He wrote:

Today I am looking at the reporting of an environmental story starting with three headlines published within one day of each other. They are all reporting the same event—the release of a report by the Office of the Inspector General [,,,] regarding complaints raised by the Drakes Bay Oyster Company […] against the National Park Service […].

Park Service cleared in probe of oyster farm fight
—Associated Press published in Mercury News

Park Service skewed data on oyster farm
—San Francisco Chronicle (via by Kelly Zito, Chronicle Staff Writer)

Marin County’s Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Abused by Government Agency, According to U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General Report–Report Shows National Park Service Used False Information, Bureaucratic Red Tape in Attempt to Ruin Marin County Business
—Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch (Business Newswire)

Is it any wonder it is difficult to know where to stand on a particular issue, or that the environment, something we all have a vested interest in, always seems to polarize us. None of the articles, all available online, even provide a link to the actual [… government] report.

to quote Marshall McLuhan
, the medium IS the message. Journalism professor at UC Santa Barbara, Ronald Rice, has written of the ways in which the nature of the media themselves affect environmental reporting:

The mass media (including the Internet), scientific research, and government policy, as well as public attitudes and behaviors, all intersect to influence how we perceive, interpret, and act on environmental concerns.

Environmental news coverage has risen since the first story on climate change in the U.S. popular media, which probably was a 1950 Saturday Evening Post article, “Is the World Getting Warmer?” Coverage declined from 1992 through 2000, and in some places shifted from pro-environmental to pro-business as industry and affected publics  managed to reframe the discussion. […] Nonetheless, environmental issues represent a very low proportion of all stories covered by newspapers and television. These stories also suffer content limitations, typically providing little qualification or support from scientific data, making vague references to the scientific communication, and emphasizing sensationalist aspects and near-term and personal consequences.

No coverage of environmental issues in the popular media is likely to be a straightforward treatment of the “facts,” due to many practical constraints, some of which are inherent in the structure and values of modern American news reporting. Among these practical influences on media portrayals of climate change are misreporting or miscommunication, public misunderstanding, low levels of journalistic training in science, media time and space constraints (especially in television), commercial pressures on media to be more profitable, event orientation, the “technophobia” of many reporters and their editors (to say nothing of the audiences), confusion over complex scientific terminology, focus on “newsworthy” drama and novelty rather than the underlying environmental issue, dependence on official sources, and trends in communication of climate change. A central practical factor is the journalistic norm of “objectivity” and “balanced co

verage.” While we generally value journalistic non-partisanship and accuracy, this phenomenon has the paradoxical consequence of reinforcing and legitimating the status quo. This is especially salient as the increased commercialization and concentration of media necessarily emphasize profit, avoid negative coverage of corporate owners and advertisers, and reflect public relations pressures from relevant industries.

The drive toward apparent, balanced objectivity leads to the treatment of climate science as “uncertain” and the inclusion of rebuttals by “experts” who are often affiliated with think tanks sponsored by the fossil fuel industry. Such coverage is unlikely to increase knowledge or change attitudes and behaviors, due to the general nature of media effects.

In an op-ed in the New York Times last month
, Frank Rich wrote:
IF you wanted to pick the moment when the American news business went on suicide watch, it was almost exactly three years ago. That’s when Stephen Colbert, appearing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, delivered a monologue accusing his hosts of being stenographers who had, in essence, let the Bush White House get away with murder (or at least the war in Iraq). To prove the point, the partying journalists in the Washington Hilton ballroom could be seen (courtesy of C-Span) fawning over government potentates — in some cases the very “sources” who had fed all those fictional sightings of Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D.  Colbert’s routine did not kill. The Washington Post reported that it “fell flat.” The Times initially did not even mention it. But to the Beltway’s bafflement, Colbert’s riff went viral overnight, ultimately to have a marathon run as the most popular video on iTunes. The cultural disconnect between the journalism establishment and the public it aspires to serve could not have been more vividly dramatized.

Our Discussion with Diedre Pike covered two basic questions:

How do the media handle environmental issues?
How can environmentalists get their messages out through the media?


In the Northstate, we are fortunate to have some nonprofit environmental media sources doing good independent journalsm, including (but not limited to):

Sierra Club, Yahi Group

Butte Environmental Council

The Nature Conservancy

Plus faculty and students at Butte College and Chico State, who have created exemplars of sustainable development on campus and in the community.

There are also a growing number of global online sites dedicated to green issues. These include:

These sites get their material from a variety of sources and most make use of interactive media to accept contributions—wiki style—from amateur reporters in the field.

Their articles are often snappy, clever, and optimistic, but they also publish some pretty hardcore and disturbing information about environmental issues.

What needs to be pointed out, however, is that most of these sites are also commercial and carry a wide range of advertising and article, most of it superficially “green,” but some downright suspicious:

For example, on Sunday two of these sites both contained articles and ads touting  “green-approved gifts for father’s day”—gifts and green, perhaps, but still selling stuff—eco-cotton T-shirts,. push lawn mowers, and some material called “Cowboy Charcoal,” which is alleged to burn cleaner than ordinary charcoal—but it’s still carbon and it still creates C02..

One site also had a lead “story”—an infomercial, really–about jewelry from recycled materials, which turned out to be hyping necklaces and earrings made in Sweden from clear plastic shards that look like ice and sell for $25 on up.  Consumerism recycled, we think.

And one of these sites had a detailed article on how to plan a green wedding that pictured the traditional rental awning and chairs set by the seashore—how much did that cost in embodied and transportation energy?–and included the advice that the happy couple should invite its travelers coming from long distances to purchase carbon offsets from an outfit called Terra Pass.

So we conclude: Ecobuyer Ecobeware.

Here is advice from Gavin Hudson on Ways to Change the World Through Social Media.  He writes:

[…] For most of us, social media has changed our lives in some meaningful way. Collectively it is changing the world for good. Given the pace of innovation and adoption, change has become a constant. Every so often we find the need to stop and reflect on its most recent and noteworthy developments, hence the following list.

Take Social Action:  The Social Actions dot org website just gave a prize to an Interactive Map […] that  is a virtual tour of the world through the lens of social action. […]  [Unfortunately, when we followed the link, we couldn’t access the map, which supposedly allows you to mouse over the world and learn about social action projects. Meanwhile, the social actions site itself includes all kinds of do-it-yourself activities to give direction to your own activism.]

Twitter with a Purpose: […] From Tweetsgiving, the virtual Thanksgiving feast, to the Twestival, which organized 202 off-line events around the world to benefit charity: water, it’s become the de facto tool for organizing and taking action.

Visit White House 2.0 [an interactive community forum]: Inside of its first 100 days, the Obama administration has managed to set the historic benchmark for government transparency and accountability.[…]  The White House continues to raise the bar with its official Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter channels.

Host a[n Online] Social Media Event: […] No meaningful gathering of people is complete without an interactive online audience, especially when it’s so easy and cost effective to pull off. Essential tools include a broadband connection, laptop, video camera, projector, and screen. Add people and a purpose […]. Promote it through social media channels, and you have a social media event.

Travel the World: […]The idea is that social media has enabled each of us to have an audience. Whether through Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, or a personal blog, each of us can have influence and reach out.  [For example, an organization called] SalaamGarage coordinates trips for citizen journalists (that means you) to places like India and Vietnam in conjunction with non-government organizations like Seattle-based Peace Trees. The destination is the story.

Create a Web Page.  Drupal and WordPress. [are both open source web building programs. Our Ecotopia website is done on WordPress, and it’s a snap to use]:

Unite the World Through Video: [Make a video and post it on U-Tube.].

Rate a Company: The conversation about corporate social responsibility (CSR) takes place across the social web on blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, but a central hub for this information and opinion is still to be determined. SocialYell seeks to address this by building an online community […], where users can submit reviews of companies together with nonprofit organizations and even public figures like Michelle Obama. The major topics are the Environment, Health, Social Equity, Consumer Advocacy, and Charity. The reviews are voted and commented on by the community […] with both up (Yell) and down (shhh) voting.

1. Kill Your Television           3:00    Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

God Fodder

2. TV News Junkie    2:17    Frank Cole

DeSoto Street Band

3. Newspapers          2:42    Stan Ridgway


4. Too Much TV         3:03    Gan     Do That Again? … Again ?!?           Alternative Rock

5. Newspaper Man   3:04    Pete Seeger

Which Side Are You On?

6. Weave Me the Sunshine  4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary

The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary