News that no longer fits into CNN

Posted December 5th, 2008 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Ignorance of Ignorance

As a blogger on environmental science and policy who has actually worked in this field for over 20 years, I have done my share of grumbling about the quality of coverage of this complex subject, but have also come to appreciate just how time consuming it is to provide quality coverage, on a daily basis, and how much we need good journalists who are actually paid to do this full time. So it was with great sadness last night, while winding down from a very long day in which I scarcely even had time to look at the blogs, much less post anything, that I found out CNN just axed the entire science and technology team at CNN. That would be science correspondent Miles O’Brien and six executive producers, among them, Peter Dykstra, who focused on science and environment, and who I had the pleasure to know in person, before he moved to Atlanta. That was a long time ago so I suspect this team is the last of the Turner era CNN crew. 

I have watched much less of CNN ever since they followed that infamous white van. But I have been reading Peter’s excellent posts to the SciTech blog, and wonder who will be finding and reporting answers to all of the good questions he has raised, now more critical than ever in what is expected to be a post science-war reconstruction period. And, via dotearth, we are reminded of when Miles O’Brien managed to put Sen. Inhofe into context, rather than “balance” a broadly held scientific consensus with denialist rants:

CNN’s reason?

We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit.  Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise . . . there is no need for a separate unit.

First, Anderson Cooper does a fine job of drawing attention to melting glaciers, or whatever he happens to be standing in front of. But that is not a substitute for quality in depth coverage that viewers will be looking for once they are hooked. Somehow, I can’t quite see Cooper providing the same depth of background reporting, in a way that draws more attention to the work of scientists and those affected by change, than to himself.

Second, “integration” at the expense of more specialized in depth reporting and diverse perspectives is an abuse of the concept, and is really just a way to control the narrative and eliminate news that doesn’t fit. Which is what you would be getting more of here at The Post-Normal Times, were I able to make a living at it. Exposing the sham arguments made by climate denialists always made good fodder for blogging, and was a relatively easy target. Making sense of various policy proposals for addressing rapid changes, not only in the climate, will be much more challenging, and will only increase the need for skilled science journalists. And also for scientists who can explain what we know and don’t know, and the trade-offs between different choices, in plain english.

For more coverage see: Curtis Brainard/Columbia Journalism Review, Janet Raloff/Science News, and, of course, commentary by PZ Myers


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