Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not Like Sports News

Unlike sports news coverage, where the lead unwinds quickly delivering a slow ball or a fast ball down the base line towards an awaiting teammate to complete a play that either mesmerizes or infuriates a crowd of enthusiasts, environmental news coverage is by comparison often droll and leaves the reader with the haunting sense that they’d been complicit in a world-wide conspiracy they did not desire or even contemplate beforehand.

However in both, sports and environmental coverage facts are not enough. In both, facts are critical; their accuracy should not be in dispute. But, facts alone don’t tell the whole story. In sports coverage there’s the daily drama, the bad boys beating the impossible odds and their wicked opponents must be whipped into such a sublime pitch of fervor that those opposed and fans enthralled near swoon. There are clear winners and losers. The winners must be goateed to gloat and the loser must retain enough dignity to come back and fight another day. Makes for exciting reading. Makes you want to follow up and tune in the next time these warriors get together. Makes for good media sales.

Environmental news coverage treats facts differently. Yes, the facts must be there, accurate and testable, but their intent must be to get the reader to see the importance of the big picture. Often not that fun. It’s not a game of winners and losers (or shouldn’t be); it’s important feedback about whether or not our way of life is working. And while environmental news coverage may never get the vast readership sports coverage does, with little of the drama and heaps of those dire consequences, here are some tips that might make environmental coverage, which some editors insist on inserting into an otherwise palatable chunk of daily reporting, more interesting:

Ask yourself, is the environmental news new? (Both sports and environment news share the burden of teasing something new out of the same old field of play.) Does it indicate a growing trend or an ebbing one—a condition where we are striving towards a solution or one threatening to come back and bite us? Does the news come from a credible source? (Even so, you should cross check it with other sources, maybe even data sources at a university or a reputable institution.) Does the story provide sufficient background to understand its import, its relevance to the overall health of the planet? (In sports, a come-back kid is bit more tantalizing that the same ole competent outfielder catching the same ole fly ball.) Does it have enough facts or so many facts that you cannot see the forest for the trees—the trees being the larger picture of our planetary environmental health? Is the story objective or biased by ideology, political, or economic zealotry?

I should mention one big difference between sports and environmental news coverage that may not be immediately obvious those wondering how the media will look after the Recession. If our local media failed altogether, someone would probably pick up the ball and deliver a blow by blow account of any game large enough to attract a crowd—by radio or podcast if necessary. If the bottom drops out of local coverage of environmental news, no one might pick up the ball at all. If you haven’t taken your eye off the ball of the media’s plight in this Recession, then you know that this is almost the case.

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