Journalism by definition, is a concise, accurate way of providing the public with an objective view of current events. Though I see an “objective” point of view as the most important foundation of journalism, its consistency is hardly ever the case. Talk shows, news reports, documentaries, and even investigative research often show a decisive skew in reporting.
This is, often apparent in environmental journalism. The Press Gazette asked the UK’s green journalists to rate their peers on their journalistic abilities. These rating were then compiled into a list of the top ten journalists in the UK. As I filed through this list of esteemed environmental journalists, I was surprisingly pleased to see how many of these writers refrained from biased language. Many of these journalists presented the facts, and most presented both sides of environmental situations.
John Vidal, the current environmental editor of The Guardian, presented his stories from a scientific point of view. He seems to provide the answers to all the right questions and interpret data in logical, objective ways. Leo Hickman, another book author and reporter for The Guardian, focuses on climate change and how societies interact with the surrounding environment. Although his articles are littered with phrases such as “Hell would glaciate before the WMO would consider such a request,” Hickman usually predates his own opinions with signal phrases. By adding “in my opinion” and “I think” to his articles, Hickman is able to offer a window into his own expertise without misleading his readers into thinking he is presenting actual facts.
However, George Monbiot (coincidently another frequent writer for The Guardian) often presents his own opinions as fact, uses sarcastic phrases in his story-telling, and leaves holes in his delivery of factual information. In describing a new policy by a British government official, he included “She capped this madness by announcing…” to illustrate her policies on flood control. In one of his articles, the science behind the environmental uses of controlled forest burns was not even explained before he utterly condemned its use.
George Monbiot is actually #1 on this list of the UK’s best environmental journalists. His recent work is highly opinionated and reads like persuasion pieces rather than classic pieces of environmental journalism. This is, in part, due to his colorful career. Monbiot began by producing investigative documentaries for the BBC until his work was shut down. Then, in 1987, he proceeded to spend six months in West Papua researching for a book that eventually exposed Suharto’s transmigration program in Indonesia where he was held at gunpoint, and once lived off rats for several days to avoid starvation while lost in the central highlands. The rest of his career has been one grand adventure after another followed by a ground-breaking story. This guy definitely has the wow factor.
But that doesn’t explain why Monbiot was rated by his peers as the top environmental journalist in the United Kingdom. I would personally like to know whether his massive exploits are simply excusing him for some sloppy journalistic mistakes, or Monbiot’s writing is invaluable for a reason that I simply don’t yet understand.