Veteran Reporter: Journalists should report on climate change like they report on child abuse
Posted April 25, 2011
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 Minnpost.com, 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.