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Veteran Reporter: Journalists should report on climate change like they report on child abuse

Bob Keefe

Posted April 25, 2011

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There’s a rule of thumb they used to teach in journalism school.

For every story, find at least three different sources, representing three different viewpoints, and make sure you give each of them the same amount of time/space in your story.

It’s a rule I lived by during my 23 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.

But as another longtime journalist recently pointed out, given all the money and special interests out there trying to influence the media and politicians today, that might not be the best rule for a journalist to follow anymore – at least not when it comes to subjects like climate change.

Don Shelby spent 32 years in front of a TV camera as an investigative reporter and anchorman in Minneapolis. He now works for, a Web site that’s quickly gaining a lot of respect and readership.

After doing plenty of research, including taking courses on statistics, chemistry and physics, Shelby has come to a conclusion: Climate change is the most important story since journalism began, and that it’s not a pro or con issue - it’s a scientific fact.

Journalists who try to “balance” a story by giving equal weight to sources who promulgate inaccurate facts about climate change, Shelby points out in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, are simply painting an inaccurate picture.

Goodness knows there are plenty of people trying to promulgate inaccurate facts about the climate change.

If you follow the money, as Shelby points out, they usually lead to special interests and industries who want to benefit from promulgating such lies – sort of like the tobacco industry that hired doctors and scientists who used to claim that cigarettes weren’t bad.

You can see the whole story here, but this quote sticks with me:

“If I report a story on abuse of children, I don’t go out and interview an abuser on the up-side of child abuse,” he said as an example of how an effort to balance can go too far.

In other words, just because somebody says something doesn’t make it true. And non-truths have no place in a news story about climate change, child abuse or anything else for that matter.

Sounds like a good rule of thumb to me.

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Comments (Add yours)

adam simmonsApr 28 2011 06:43 PM

I think the idea of treating climate change should be reported like child abuse. We don't give molesters a chance to show its ok or explain themselves. The statement that this is not just a journalistic story is scientific fact

Jan DietrickMay 16 2011 07:29 PM

Conscientious journalists and videographers and scientists and cartoonists have already reported more than enough and it is not making enough difference. Talking points on the level of science, technology, economy or politics is deepening the numbness.

Reporters, give your skill and insight over to Gen Hot (from Mark Hertsgaard), the youth and children calling for an urgent response to climate change. Mentor and facilitate the united and growing voice of the disenfranchised who are organizing and participating in Kids vs Global Warming and the iMatter marches. Get your children out in the streets! Now! Encourage them in creative transparent law-abiding forms of activism in every neighborhood. Blog about that! Youth are compellingly articulate about the peaceful, powerful revolution that will save their planet. How do we get out of their way and then fill in their ranks doing what they suggest we do?

Youth and children have the moral authority and they at least need to be given every opportunity to process their feelings about this shameful mess. It is about inter-generational justice. It's about their future. What more needs to be reported? What else will you write about that is going to change someone's mind about lifestyle or public policy? What lengths must we go to before the President will want to accompany his children on the subway to a March in DC?

They marched in Denver last Saturday 3/14:

They marched in Ojai, CA, on Sunday. Here is what one of the kids recited for the crowd after the march:

Heyy everyone
Why are we here today? Let me tell you, we are here to show the world we have a voice, that we have a choice that we can make a difference.
We will no longer stand and stare from a distance, we must make apparent that we are members of this argument, that we have become discontent with the lack of action from our government, about this global warming event, and how we will not relent until they hear what we have to say
About how we are on this one-way road to a disorientated mayday
Our world is wasting away
While officials the world over just look the other way,
It makes me wanna scream and shout, to tell them there no longer is any doubt, this is real, no way to opt out
This is our chance, to break the people from their apathetic trance
To show them the ways they can affect, connect, correct, and finally respect, we can do this if as one we stand, no please don't misunderstand but without a helping had, this place, this very place could quite soon be a no man's land

So today we march, to show how no matter how large
Or how small you think you are your voice matters
From Montreal to the capital of Nepal to even the Chinese wall, we have thrown those in power a curve ball, we are all in it for the long haul, there has to be change before we befall the devastation of industrialized globalization.
So now the transformation must be done b our generation without procrastination please listen this is no exaggeration
So let us represent our environment
People will look at this as the idle chatter from some mad hatter, but that doesn't matter
This is what matters
This is our revolution, our pollution solution,
This is not coincidental or accidental, but has become quite detrimental, this stand is transcontinental
We have engaged in a silence, without voice or guidance, no way to shout, but by coming here we have shown defiance not blind compliance, an alliance so rejoice we have a brand new voice.
So let us awaken and not be mistaken
You matter I matter we matter our voice it matters
--Spence Glazer, read by him at Ojai iMatter March 5/15/11

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