Environmental Journalism

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.

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3 comments

  1. joshyboy21 · February 16, 2016

    Mackenzie,

    Great topic to write about and I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. I too would like to know more about why Monbiot received the award. I think environmental journalism has been skewed in its presentation just as all other fields of journalism have been in there lack of unbiased information.

    When I read an environmental article I often don’t care about a writers opinion, I simply want to know the facts of scientific research. I would think it would be useful for journalists to be able to present their findings of some scientific research specifically about global warming in a presentable manner that is easier to read than a scientific report which is often bland an full of confusing words and procedures.

    To put it blandly I’m sick of reading these articles that pop up here and there from The New York Times to name one example that don’t really tell me anything in the way of the facts and how they came to be. It is just empty rhetoric that seeks to convince us through emotion, but what about those people that want the facts!

    Take care Mackenzie and may we both seek to know not just believe what others tell us.

    Joshua Simon

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  2. jwatkin7 · February 21, 2016

    Mackenzie,

    I think this is a really interesting topic, and a problem that plagues a lot of articles that would present otherwise decent information. I feel like they assume that others would be more drawn into the story if they used descriptives, flowery language, and humor. The fact that George Monbiot was at the top of his list, especially when his stories are as you described, is proof that a lot of other journalists feel the same way. I feel that, while this is true for fictional pieces, it isn’t the same for non-fictional pieces, especially those concerning groundbreaking news stories. People shouldn’t have to wade through unnecessary blocks of text to get one nugget (or several nuggets) of information. Information of importance should be displayed in a way that is clear, concise, and not purposely deceptive or biased.

    If there was a way to let these journalists know that blatant sensationalism isn’t really getting them anywhere, then I would gladly do so.

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  3. andrewwingfield · March 1, 2016

    I wonder if part of the issue you’re identifying is the way in which people come to environmental journalism. I am willing to bet that most are called to this topic area by a strong interest in nature and a concern for its protection. Journalistic skills give these writers tools they can use to investigate pollution, public policies and laws that are detrimental to nature, etc. That’s not an excuse for doing sloppy work, but it does mean that environmental journalists likely face a big challenge in trying to maintain a suitable level of objectivity when reporting about topics that stir their passions.

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