Turning up the heat : an analysis of the historic, scientific and socio-political complexities influencing climate change reporting in the modern newsroom

Joubert, Leonie (2006-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Journalism))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.

Thesis

Global climate change is the result of the natural greenhouse effect being enhanced or augmented by human activities such as industrial burning of fossil fuels and large-scale agricultural practices which have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The result – the first truly globalised consequence of pollution – is arguably one of the most pressing matters facing the future of the human species. Journalists reporting on the subject have considerable responsibility to unravel the science and present it accurately and responsibly to the public, so that the latter can make informed decisions about individual energy consumption, informed decisions at the voting poll and go further to put the necessary pressure on policy makers. However climate change is without doubt the most complex story environmental and science reporters have ever encountered, not only because it encompasses so many different fields of natural sciences (oceanography, climatology, biological sciences including flora and fauna, hydrology, horticulture etc.), but because it all too often spills over into the political, economic and social arenas. “Climate change is a difficult story to recreate… (it) is one of the most complicated stories of our time. It involves abstract and probabilistic science, labyrinthine laws, grandstanding politicians, speculative economics and the complex interplay of individuals and societies” (Wilson, 2000: 206). Specialist environmental and science news reporters only have three and a half decades of experience and history, since this is one of the more recent journalistic beats to be assigned to modern newsrooms. Such writers face a particularly challenging job of reporting the complex and growing science of global climate change. Furthermore they must do so in an environment where politicians and environmental activists feed journalists sometimes conflicting information, each with its own agenda. Increasing consumer demand for entertainment in place of information may also complicate the telling of these stories, given the financial imperative to sell newspapers. Furthermore, the “global warming story is also affected by a number of journalistic constraints, such as deadlines, space, one-source stories, complexity and reporter education” (Wilson, 2000: 206). The complexities of news values also shape the stories which finally are released to the news consuming public.

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