At the same time that human beings are facing multiple, unprecedented environmental calamities including climate change, acidification of the ocean, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, melting icecaps, ground water pollution, and other ecological catastrophes – the number of U.S. science reporters is rapidly declining, resulting in an information gap that is filled with sensationalized scandals, celebrity gossip and sports. From 85 weekly science sections in newspapers in the U.S in 1989, there were just 19 left by 2012. Without science reporters the public’s environmental ignorance will spread like an epidemic.
In 2009, Columbia University closed its earth and environmental science journalism program; in 2013 Johns Hopkins University retired its 30 year-old science writing program. Even as environmental tragedies sweep across the world, the reason cited for eliminating these programs is “poor job market”.
Scott Dodd, editor of the Natural Resources Defence Council’s On Earth.org, and who considers climate change the “most urgent story of our times”, told IPS that environmental issues are “consistently under-covered”. “A long-term story like climate change, where the news today isn’t all that different from the news last week or last year, it’s difficult without a deep knowledge of the subject to find a fresh angle and sell an editor on why it should be front page news,” Dodd said.
Zofeen Ebrahim, “U.S. Science Reporters Becoming an Endangered Species”, Inter Press Service, October 15, 2013, http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/u-s-science-reporters-becoming-an-endangered-species/.
Katherine Bagley, “About a Dozen Environment Reporters Left at Top 5 U.S. Papers”, Inside Climate News, January 17, 2013, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130114/new-york-times-dismantles-environmental-desk-climate-change-global-warming-journalism-newspapers-hurricane-sandy.
Peter Sterne, “Networks Lose Two Veteran Science Reporters”, Columbia Journalism Review, April 8, 2013, http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/robert_bazell_ned_potter_leave.php
Student Researcher: Jennifer Moug (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Edward Beebout (Sonoma State University)