From someone who has witnessed an evolution of local environmental news coverage for over eleven years—daily—I have two sweeping observations. There are positive leaps forward in our collective ability to monitor our environment and profoundly disturbing signs that we learning less and less about our environment that is changing more and more. Without hard cold facts about our environment’s state, we are either reacting to or ignoring crucial facts we need to flourish. Charles Darwin reminds us of gathering correct data: “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.”
The good news about environmental coverage in our area is the Internet. The dream of super connectivity has come true. Though nonsense and frivolity on a scale never before imagined has come along with this instant world-wide communication system, so has the accessibility of information about our environment. The openness and depth of information provided by public officials (primary sources of research, policy, and litigation) is unprecedented. You can pull news and information from all your public officials and governmental departments daily—and you don’t have to wait for the media to massage it for you. Press releases, notices of public input, documents, etc., are mostly free and open to the public.
Also, environmental groups online have accelerated the concept of the public as investigative reporter. They oftentimes develop their own funding for local studies on our environment—and publish it freely to the world on the web. Some large groups, like the Audubon Society, produce primary information about birds that is unavailable from any other source. Smaller groups, with their growing constituency, are gathering information about the affects of our way of life on our environment like ants searching for food. There is, in my sweeping generalization, a geometric rise in the public’s awareness of our local environment accompanied by a voluminous data.
The bad news about our environment is the Internet. The public’s rush to the ease of gathering information and the bewildering breath of it from the web is sucking the lifeblood from print media. And while some shrug their shoulders at the creative destruction (inherent in Capitalism, where is it necessary for some industries to die in order for others to be born) of our previous media, there’s an alarming extinction event accompanying this demise: Good environmental reporters are losing their jobs and no one is taking their place.
The Internet is good at a lot of things, but it has failed to generate a nurturing environment for serious environmental reporting. As newspapers fail, so does local environmental coverage. And while we can gather more and more information from more and more sources, those sources are not providing us with the kind of objective and investigatory reporting that comes with competing local newspapers. This is a fact. It is so disturbing to some congress people that some are considering giving local news coverage a non-profit status. The First Amendment isn’t being destroyed by the Internet, it’s getting watered down. The present state of local environmental reporting is like that of party—there is lots of stuff, but not much that is good for you. Our ability to find thoroughly vetted data to finely tune our environmental monitoring is becoming vanishingly small.