A Year/Decade of Great Change on Climate and on Journalism

It would be folly to attempt here to capture the meaning of this full decade just past in terms of what it’s meant for science and environmental journalism, any more than one might easily capture what it’s meant for climate and climate change generally.

On the latter, one can safely conclude that little that has been learned about the science of climate change during that time should induce a smiley face feeling of contentment. The fruits of countless hours of serious scientific endeavor, notwithstanding some inevitable blips along the way, do little to mollify the concerns expressed since the beginning of this decade. Those standing by their hopes that the hacked e-mails might change that equation are unlikely to accept that conclusion. ┬áBut as the late Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”

Throughout this troublesome, and in endless ways troubling, decade, there were recurring high and low points in public interest and media attention to the issue which early on came to be seen as one of the most pressing of the new century. Steadily less sanguine and less language-nuanced reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, combined with huge supporting roles from such as the National Academy of Sciences and from Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and his Nobel Peace Prize, gave rise to the salience of the issue, if not its solvability.

On another front, however, it became clear to all and well before mid-decade that major changes – these too likely to last decades – are under way in terms of how the media distribute, and how and whether the public consumes, news and information.

“An epochal transformation,” the first “State of the News Media” report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism reported in 2004. Subsequent annual updates alerted all that “the pace of change is increasing” and, most recently, that “some of the numbers are chilling.”

Chilling indeed, notwithstanding an overall warming climate and notwithstanding either the temporary and geography-specific cooling that propels those so inclined to “Bah Humbug!” told-you-sos.

What does one say, what can one say, about a decade in which a Cronkite and a Don Hewitt pass from the scene, their torch increasingly being taken over by the likes of assorted and sordid website mouth breathers and blogastian bloviators? What does one say about a news decade in which a story of the decade, nay of the century, fails to make it into end-of-decade “top 20″ covered stories lists?

A decade in which a major university-based American city, Ann Arbor, finds itself without a daily newspaper in print? In which the two best “second daily newspapers” in the country – the Post Intelligencer in Seattle and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver – both cease operations? A decade – no make it year, just this past fall in fact – in which two of journalism’s own erstwhile flagships pare back significantly (American Journalism Review) or go outright belly-up (Editor & Publisher)? A year in which the nation’s only joint earth sciences-journalism masters program, at Columbia, suspends operations, at least for the time being, primarily because of the discouraging job prospects facing would-be graduates?

Oh my. These subjects and more are explored at length (John Daley) and in brief (Sara Peach’s video interview with Duke’s James T. Hamilton) in the two postings that launch this new calendar year for The Yale Forum.

They add to a growing, and important, body of work exploring the changing state of journalism, in this case in the context of a changing climate. The only certainty is that there will be many more to come.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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