This research paper is five years old, but is an interesting glimpse into the reasoning and justifications for lopsided reporting of AGW. Read the paper, discuss. Yuck~ctm
Climate Change in the Newsroom: Journalists’ Evolving Standards of Objectivity When Covering Global Warming.
Sara Shipley Hiles1 and Amanda Hinnant
Full Paper here:
This study investigated how highly experienced environmental journalists view the professional norms of objectivity when covering climate change over time. Elite journalists were sought, and all had a minimum of 10 years of experience in climate coverage. In-depth interviews revealed a paradox: Most still profess belief in objectivity even as they reject or redefine it. Participants said that journalists should use objective practices and refrain from revealing their own biases, including advocating for the environment. However, participants have radically redefined the component of objectivity known as balance. They now advocate a weight-of-evidence approach, where stories reflect scientific consensus.
Climate change is arguably the world’s biggest environmental story—and for journalists, it may be the toughest (Ward, 2008). Not only is the story scientifically complex, it is politically treacherous. With American opinion about anthropogenic climate change polarized along partisan lines (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2012), journalists have suffered withering criticism left and right—even veiled death threats (Revkin, 2009). Traditionally, journalists could shield themselves from attack through practicing “objectivity” (e.g., Mindich, 1998; Schiller, 1978; Schudson, 1978; Tuchman, 1978). A key component of traditional journalistic objectivity is “balance,” in which reporters try to tell “both sides of the story” (Tuchman, 1972, p. 665). With climate change, however, traditional balance led journalists and the public massively astray. Public relations (PR) firms and dissenting scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry sowed doubt and misinformation about the reality of human-caused climate change (Gelbspan, 2005; J. Greenberg, Knight, & Westersund, 2011), and journalists repeated the information in an attempt to be “balanced” (Gelbspan, 2005). This pattern led to the charge of “balance as bias,” in which Boykoff and Boykoff (2004) skewered the media for creating an appearance of significant scientific debate over anthropogenic climate change, when, in fact, there was little disagreement. This lopsided coverage falsely framed climate change as a “debate” in the public eye (Boykoff, 2010). Scholars have noted problematic climate coverage from the 1980s through about 2005 (Antilla, 2005; Brossard, Shanahan, & McComas, 2004, Liu, Vedlitz, & Alston, 2008; McComas & Shanahan, 1999; Trumbo, 1996; Zehr, 2000). However, not long after Boykoff and Boykoff’s (2004) influential study, coverage appeared to change. By 2007, Boykoff (2007a) found that media coverage more closely reflected scientific consensus.
By 2010, Block (2010) noted that most journalists had stopped covering climate change as a scientific controversy.
How do journalists perceive this shift? A number of previous studies have examined climate change coverage through content analyses of U.S. newspapers (e.g., Boykoff & Boykoff, 2004). This study asked journalists themselves to explain the evolution—and to discuss what role their perception of journalistic norms played. More specifically, this study asked how an elite group of expert U.S. environmental reporters perceived the professional norm of objectivity when covering climate change and how they say this perception changed during a period of apparent shift from 2000 to 2010. Participants were probed on eight dimensions of traditional objectivity gleaned from the literature, such as neutrality and balance (e.g., Schudson, 1978). Results show that mainstream environmental journalists developed a modified norm of objectivity but do not claim to have abandoned it completely. This discovery is important in an era when traditional notions of journalism are being challenged and new definitions are coming forward. Both journalists and the public deserve a thorough understanding of the values that contributed to this most crucial story.
Before turning to the journalists’ perspectives, we provide a conceptual review of objectivity, a history of climate change coverage, and a review of research on environmental journalists.