LJWorld.com weblogs Lauren Keith

The Birth and Death of the Environmental Beat

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http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Nov/16/IMG_2922.JPG Getting some help setting up the weather station last fall.

The task seemed incredibly straightforward: Buy a thermometer and take temperature readings twice daily for a month. Compare the temperatures to other weather stations in Lawrence and data from previous years.

But I messed it up the first day.

I lived in a tangle of student apartments, so I didn’t know where to put the thermometer. I didn’t know when to read it. Should I have two readings 12 hours apart? Was it actually feasible to read it daily at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.? What if I had other plans at those times? What happened if my thermometer was stolen or mowed over (which it was … twice)?

Even as a journalism and environmental studies major, I didn’t understand the data I was collecting. How accurate was my temperature record if I missed a reading? In a seemingly simple experiment, I saw the pitfalls of synthesizing even small amounts of data. Who decides what information is told and what isn’t?

Most people don’t see the similarities between scientists and journalists (especially all the people who ask me what I’m going to do with my life), yet their missions are incredibly similar: take reams of complex information and make it understandable.

But understandable to whom? The revival of green in the last few years has given birth to the environmental beat at newspapers and magazines. Stories about the environment frequently make headlines. Joe Sixpack can learn about recycling and compact fluorescent light bulbs and methane tax.

Unfortunately, that’s where the environmental beat has seemed to end. We can talk about driving less and the greenest underwear to buy, but environmental journalists have an obligation more than most other journalists to move beyond the basics.

And that’s where the environmental beat has limited us. Journalists can’t know when the basics have been covered enough. When has everyone learned about organic food or carbon dioxide? When do we move on to CAFOs and coal-fired power plants?

Journalists, in trying to write for their audience, leave out a lot of information out of necessity. But when do we graduate to the next level?

I don’t know the answer. I can’t even take the temperature correctly.

— Lauren Keith

Comments

George Lippencott 5 years, 8 months ago

If you pursue your question by expanding on your beat, I hope you can make sense of all the arguments. It would be nice to have someone put sacrifices asked in conjunction with diasters averted.

devobrun 5 years, 8 months ago

Your next level is to learn science. My guess is that your science education is the warm fuzzy world of limited math .....um narrative.

As you said: "Most people don’t see the similarities between scientists and journalists (especially all the people who ask me what I’m going to do with my life), yet their missions are incredibly similar: take reams of complex information and make it understandable. "

Science isn't about explanation. It is about the test. The narrative type of science is the type that is manipulative (like journalism) and informative in a way which is intended to move people away from the mystical. There is a modern trend to not require science to actually do a test.

But that kind of science is without fecundity. It isn't the kind of science that produces branches of engineering and products.

Narrative science is like journalism. If you continue to learn and explain narrative science without expanding your knowledge into physics, you will forever be condemned to thinking that a virtual world is the same as the real world.

Video games aren't real. Computer models of science without actually doing the stated scientific deed aren't real either. Science is the test, not just the gathering of evidence and thinking about it. Do it...or don't. Anything less is just a story, not unlike the bible, or evolution, or other stories that have no use to a builder.

Narrative science is to science as masturbation is to sex. Feels good. Produces nothing but feelings.

Demand more from the world. Life is difficult. Take the hard path. Don't back down or settle for yammering. Do it.....or don't

You can't be a war correspondent unless you go to war. You can't be a scientific correspondent unless you master the only real science that has ever existed: physics. Everything else is stamp collecting and story telling.

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