J500 Media and the Environment

Sometimes this is “balanced”. by Dave Dunn
July 10, 2009, 11:43 am
Filed under: Energy + Climate, J840 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

scale I came home one night after the 10 o’clock news feeling good about the story I did, feeling like “I did my job”. It was a story about a complex and heated issue, each side got equal time, it was unbiased and balanced. But I knew the majority of people supported one side, including me…so did I do my job?

The story wasn’t about global warming, but it’s similar in that it’s also a complex and heated issue. (ha ha!) As noted in the AEVS Survey, while there is general consensus among the science community that global warming is real and about certain causes and potential effects, there are still some skeptics. But let’s say the ratio is 90-10. So to be objective and “balanced” in a news story dealing with global warming, should 10 percent go to skeptics and 90 percent to other side? Or maybe more considering the AEVS shows most Americans believe global warming is happening and are concerned about it? It definitely shouldn’t be 50-50, right?

I believe Journalists trying to pinpoint the weight/air-time/print-space to give each side can be a slippery slope. If you agree with John Merrill, that journalists are essentially nothing more than Circus Clowns, it’s asking for disaster. But as Iggers points out, journalists don’t get hired without experience and degrees in larger markets (like top 60 for TV, and of course–national networks & publications). And I believe in most cases these journalists are more, maybe not objective, but FAIR in storytelling. (I don’t know if there can be true objectivity across the board in journalism, unless we’re all robots or something.)

Thinking about advocacy journalism, if allowed whenever and wherever, news might as well turn into opinion (and/or blogs). But it may be more acceptable on environmental issues. I mean, who can argue that trashing the environment is a good thing? There may be a trade-off socially, economically, jobs, etc. And I think the other side needs to be acknowledged, but doesn’t have to get equal time. Advocacy journalism about the environment could be seen as just doing a good thing.

But as I go forward, if it’s known that the majority of people are on one side of any issue, I like it to get the majority of coverage. Is that advocacy journalism, or just fair and “balanced”?

-Dave D.

5 Comments so far
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Hi David,

You bring up a very good point that I never thought of. What if the story that is being written about has a smaller opposition view and how much time or content should be devoted to this view? I think if some stories have a low opposition rate, than maybe the story isn’t worth promoting.

But I do think in today’s journalism world, journalists would get a far better reputation if all stories centered 50-50 reporting time. Of course this means there would be far less content devoted to the advocacy side of the story or stories would be that much longer to create room for the opposition side.

Maybe stories should be longer and more indepth – educating the public isn’t a bad thing and that is what a journalist is for, is it not?

Christine W.

Comment by christinewerem

I wish all tv news producers could read your comments. Reporters battle almost everyday on length/time they allow for stories, and sometimes reporter can feel like they’re short-changing the public because of time constraints on a story.
Or maybe more journalists should focus/specialize on a certain topic, or just a few topics?
Dave D.

Comment by davemd

If the subject were evolution, would you provide equal time to creationists? If the subject were whether or not the earth is round, should you give equal time to flat-earthers?

Striving for “balance” in reporting on the issue of global warming is nothing more than abdication of your responsibility to investigate in sufficient depth to ferret out the truth. Your first responsibility as a journalist is to educate yourself on the topic.

Here’s a start: every national science academy from every nation in the world supports the viewpoint that global warming is real, man-made, and dangerous. If you give equal time to so-called “skeptics” then you’re adding to the danger.

Comment by tamino


For clarification, are you saying the ratio’s of evolution to creationism believers is similar to round and flat-earth believers? Yikes! That could start a holy war. Very strong sides and “research” out there on evolution vs. creation, and seems extremely difficult for a journalist to try to determine weight to give each side. While the global warming issue seems more one-sided, aren’t there still a lot of unknowns? Here’s an example of what can happen when journalists give too much weight to one side on global warming issue.

You make a very good point about journalists role to research and educate themselves on topics before covering them. But the fast pace of local TV News these days, doesn’t really allow reporters the luxury of doing any in-depth research before covering a story. And environmental issues/stories are often tied around a local, unplanned event.
With the variety of stories TV journalists cover, it seems they’re forced to be a Jack of all trades–master of none. Would it be better for them to stay away from environmental issues unless given appropriate time to research and educate themselves?
I know on the issue of global warming, the last thing I would want to do is add to the danger.
-Dave D.

Comment by davemd

A study was done by science historian Naomi Oreskes (I think she’s at UC San Diego), published I think in the journal Science, to determine what fraction of published papers actually expressed skepticism of man-made global warming. She estimates 2%.

And that tiny fraction is in spite of a massive campaign by “free market” ideologues to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about global warming through propaganda. The tactics used in this campaign are extremely similar to those used by tobacco-industry funded groups to spread doubt about the health danger of cigarette smoke. In fact, some of the scientists who participate in the global-warming-doubt campaign are familiar names, having formerly been on the payroll of R.J.Reynolds tobacco company.

The only reason there’s “debate” about global warming is the deliberate, well-orchestrated, propaganda campaign. There’s your story. Start investigating.

Comment by tamino

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