Visions of a Sustainable FutureJournalists as Public Intellectuals in the Climate Debate Matthew C. Nisbet Associate Profe...
Evaluating the Media Impact of a BestsellerNisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2013) BMC Medical Ethics, 14:10.                      ...
Knowledge Journalists as Super Achievers & Outliers                      o View world deductively, relating how           ...
The Future of Big Ideas Journalism & Storytelling?                                                     @MCNisbet
Teaching Knowledge-Based Journalism               o Goal is to build use of scientific and                 scholarly resea...
Knowledge Journalists Across Dimensions                                       Synthesis         Elizabeth Kolbert         ...
Walter Lippmann as Teacher and Advisor                 o Lippmann was motivated to capture uncertainty and                ...
Veteran Science Journalists as Informed Critics                o Open up the process of expert knowledge                  ...
Rachel Carson and the Control of Nature               o Carson was a “relentless reviser,” relying on “a                 v...
Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers            o Tom Friedman started his career with UPI before becoming              B...
Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers              o Revkin earned his graduate degree in journalism from                C...
Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers                   o McKibben graduated from Harvard in 1982 where                   ...
Personalities, Celebrities and Global Commodities                        o Merge public and private selves by relating    ...
Knowledge Journalists Online & Spirals of Attention                        o Motivated “issue publics” deep dive          ...
Discourses and Communities of Assumptions          o Knowledge journalists as public intellectuals help create            ...
Telling Stories about Wicked Problems                         o The more complex a problem like                           ...
McKibben as American Romantic         o Wild regions are “frequently likened to Eden itself,” and           viewed as the ...
McKibben as Deep Ecologist         o Applies metaphor of “overshoot and collapse,” in which           computer models pred...
Friedman and the Green Growth Perspective         o Limits to growth can be stretched if the right policies and           ...
The Green Prometheans        o Question the Romantic ideal of Nature separate from          humans in the Anthropocene. Em...
Networked Knowledge JournalismBridging and Blurring Discourses           o “The idea here is not just to highlight points ...
The Dot Earth BlogRevkin as Explainer, Informed Critic and Convenor                                                @MCNisbet
The Dot Earth BlogRevkin as Explainer, Informed Critic and Convenor                                                @MCNisbet
www.ClimateShiftProject.org                              @MCNisbet
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Visions of a Sustainable Future: Journalists as Public Intellectuals in the Climate Change Debate

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In this presentation at Boston University's College of Communication on March 28, 2013, I discuss my recent Harvard University Shorenstein Center paper on journalists as public intellectuals. In the tradition of Walter Lippmann, these best-selling authors, essayists, columnists, and bloggers specialize in the analysis and translation of complex subjects, often also championing specific policy positions. In doing so, they influence how we think and talk, infusing the abstract with meaning, and turning the complex into a common vocabulary. In my paper and presentation, I focus specifically on journalists writing about climate change, sustainability, and economic growth, evaluating the careers and work of prolific essayist-turned-activist Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy), New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded), and New York Times environmental writer Andrew Revkin (the Dot Earth blog).

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  • Thursday, March 28, 2013

    VISIONS OF A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE: JOURNALISTS AS PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS IN THE CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

    In this month’s COM Research Colloquium, Dr. Nisbet (Associate Professor of Communication and Co-Director of the Center for Social Media, American University, Washington, D.C.) examines the role of prominent journalists as public intellectuals in society today. In the tradition of Walter Lippmann, these best-selling authors, essayists, columnists, and bloggers specialize in the analysis and translation of complex subjects, often also championing specific policy positions. In doing so, they influence how we think and talk, infusing the abstract with meaning, and turning the complex into a common vocabulary. Dr. Nisbet focuses specifically on journalists writing about climate change, sustainability, and economic growth, evaluating the careers and work of prolific essayist-turned-activist Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy), New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded), and New York Times environmental writer Andrew Revkin (the Dot Earth blog).

    Start Time: 4:00 pm

    Ends Time: 5:00 pm

    Location: COM 209



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Visions of a Sustainable Future: Journalists as Public Intellectuals in the Climate Change Debate

  1. 1. Visions of a Sustainable FutureJournalists as Public Intellectuals in the Climate Debate Matthew C. Nisbet Associate Professor School of Communication American University Washington D.C.College of CommunicationBoston University 3.28.13 @MCNisbet
  2. 2. Evaluating the Media Impact of a BestsellerNisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2013) BMC Medical Ethics, 14:10. ETHICAL THEMES EMPHASIZED IN MEDIA DISCUSSION Informed Consent Compensation Welfare Progress Control / Access Minor Emphasis Accountability Major Emphasis Privacy Education Advocacy N = 125 0 20 40 60 80 100 % of Reviews, Profiles, Features, Interviews & Opinion Articles @MCNisbet
  3. 3. Knowledge Journalists as Super Achievers & Outliers o View world deductively, relating how specific events or trends can be explained by theory or grand narrative. o Rather than straight reporting they translate complex subjects, specialize in immersion and synthesis, often championing specific policy positions or causes. o As public intellectuals, they are often “a social critic rather than merely a social observer….they are at once engaged and detached.” – Richard Posner @MCNisbet
  4. 4. The Future of Big Ideas Journalism & Storytelling? @MCNisbet
  5. 5. Teaching Knowledge-Based Journalism o Goal is to build use of scientific and scholarly research more deeply into the journalism curriculum, where reliance on research becomes as second nature as reporting. o Journalist Resource as curated repository and aggregation of relevant studies and research across frequently covered public affairs topics. o Can benefit from models and case studies by which to understand how the super- achievers among journalists use research, tell stories, manage their careers, and impact debates. @MCNisbet
  6. 6. Knowledge Journalists Across Dimensions Synthesis Elizabeth Kolbert Andrew Revkin Gary Taubes John Horgan Malcolm Gladwell Nicholas Carr Stephen DubnerJournalist Writer Tom Friedman Fareed Zakaria David Brooks Douglas Rushkoff Michael Pollan Bill McKibben Naomi Klein Advocacy @MCNisbet
  7. 7. Walter Lippmann as Teacher and Advisor o Lippmann was motivated to capture uncertainty and complexity in the world, as well as the indispensability of the long view. o Used his books as opportunities to define his philosophy, and his columns as a means to more widely convey & apply his views. o Viewed journalists as expert analysts, guiding “citizens to a deeper understanding of what was really important.” o As teacher, believed “academic theory frequently needed to be reinterpreted and readjusted to fit practical political realities.” o As advisor, wrote knowing that political leaders were among his readers. @MCNisbet
  8. 8. Veteran Science Journalists as Informed Critics o Open up the process of expert knowledge production for their readers, examining how and why research was done, positing alternative interpretations, drawing connections to ongoing debates about a field. o Sometimes challenge scientific paradigms or the conclusions of a group of experts. o Critique coverage by journalists, claims by bloggers, by advocates and public intellectuals. @MCNisbet
  9. 9. Rachel Carson and the Control of Nature o Carson was a “relentless reviser,” relying on “a vast network of experts, scientists, scholars, and physicians who reviewed and commented on her work…” – William Souder o Pesticides were a sign of our grave new technological hubris, employing vivid imagery to engage her audiences, evoking images of nuclear bomb-like devastation. “She wanted us to understand that we were just a blip. The control of nature was an arrogant idea…” – Linda Lear o She “was the first person to take the shine off the idea of progress, and to make us reconsider whether all was quite as it seemed,” – McKibben, 2008 @MCNisbet
  10. 10. Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers o Tom Friedman started his career with UPI before becoming Beirut bureau chief and then Jerusalem bureau chief. o Before being named a regular New York Times columnist in 1995, he served as the State Department correspondent, the White House correspondent, and then the International economics correspondent. o By the time he had published Hot, Flat, and Crowded in 2008, Friedman had written 1200 columns for the New York Times, won three Pulitzers, published four previous books including The World Is Flat, and hosted 6 documentaries including several on energy and climate change. @MCNisbet
  11. 11. Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers o Revkin earned his graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University, worked at Science Digest and Los Angeles Times before joining Discover magazine in 1987. In 1990, Revkin authored The Burning Season, later translated into a HBO movie. o In 1995, he joined the Metro Desk at the New York Times and five years later became national environment correspondent. In 2007, he launched the Dot Earth blog o Filed more than 1200 stories, approx. 300 focusing primarily on climate change, and has written more than 800 posts at Dot Earth. Among the first NY Times reporters to use multi-media methods. @MCNisbet
  12. 12. Becoming Outliers and Super Achievers o McKibben graduated from Harvard in 1982 where he was President of The Crimson. Worked as a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1982 to 1987. o “One of the wonderful things about writing for the New Yorker was that I was writing anonymously. I‟d send a piece to Mr. Shawn [his editor] and get back a galley with a very good set of questions. It was amazing to discover in a 700-word piece how many places you‟d been unclear, imprecise, open to interpretation, and on and on.”– McKibben 2008 o “It was from [Jonathon Schell] that I learned how great reporting could produce critical thinking. It was a liberating reprieve from the twin straightjackets of „objective reporting‟ and „punditry‟.” – McKibben 2008 @MCNisbet
  13. 13. Personalities, Celebrities and Global Commodities o Merge public and private selves by relating complex ideas or problems to personal anecdotes, “journeys,” “realizations.” o Appearance, headshot, image, and dress are likely to be consistent with the subject matter they write about. o Establish authenticity, commitment to a topic i.e. “walks the walk,” “practices what they preach” or has acquired unique knowledge through exceptional experiences. o Most are commodities, in that their books, writing, and speeches are bound up with a dense web of promotion, selling, marketing, and millions of dollars in transactions. @MCNisbet
  14. 14. Knowledge Journalists Online & Spirals of Attention o Motivated “issue publics” deep dive into subject content across outlets, making knowledge journalism online participatory and social. o Articles become most popular, read, or emailed at news sites…flagged, highlighted, contextua lized, and spread by way of comments, Facebook “like” buttons, and indicators of how often a story has been re-tweeted. o Meta-commentary and reactions from bloggers and journalists at other news sites turns article into “pseudo-event.” @MCNisbet
  15. 15. Discourses and Communities of Assumptions o Knowledge journalists as public intellectuals help create discourses and “communities of assumptions” that define problems and policy options. o By calling attention to specific disciplines and networks of experts, they help define which experts or views might be mainstream versus what might be contrarian or out of bounds. o Once assumptions and legitimate authorities are established, it becomes “costly in terms of human mental labor to re-examine what has finally come to be taken for granted.” o Other public intellectuals are needed to “disturb the canonical peace” and “defamiliarize the obvious” by identifying the flaws in conventional wisdom and by offering alternative renderings of a problem. @MCNisbet
  16. 16. Telling Stories about Wicked Problems o The more complex a problem like climate change, the more equally plausible discourses and narratives exist about what should be done. o Climate change serves as an opportunity for different groups to mobilize on behalf of their values, goals and vision for society. o By analyzing discourses “we can at least recognize that the sources of our enduring disagreements…lie within us, in our values and in our sense of identity and purpose.” @MCNisbet
  17. 17. McKibben as American Romantic o Wild regions are “frequently likened to Eden itself,” and viewed as the “one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness.” o In Nature, “the supernatural lay just beneath the surface,” enabling people to “glimpse the face of God.” – William Cronon o Nature and community become instruments to argue deeper truths: “A farmers‟ market is a sign of a „quiet revolution‟ that will change everything. The revolution concerns an idea – that economic growth and material things will not make us happy.”– Richard White @MCNisbet
  18. 18. McKibben as Deep Ecologist o Applies metaphor of “overshoot and collapse,” in which computer models predict that human population growth, rising consumerism, and resource depletion exceed the carrying capacity of the planet. o As consequence, society needs to deprioritize economic growth, and to instead focus on quality of life. o Societal transformation will require widespread activism that challenges status quo. Idealizes a Jeffersonian agrarian economy comprised of self-reliant communities. o Focus is on locally-based “appropriate technologies” such as solar and wind power. Deeply suspicious of genetic engineering and nuclear energy. @MCNisbet
  19. 19. Friedman and the Green Growth Perspective o Limits to growth can be stretched if the right policies and reforms are adopted. Combines a focus on a “soft path” approach with a pricing mechanism on carbon. o For Friedman, the world is a “growth machine” that “no one can turn off.” Need “Code Green” plan that would create “abundant, cheap, clean, reliable electrons.” o Social change happens “by leveraging the greatest innovation engine God ever created, which is the combination of American research universities, venture capital, and the marketplace.” o “America will have its identity back, not to mention its self- confidence, because it will again be leading the world on the most important strategic mission and values issue of the day.” @MCNisbet
  20. 20. The Green Prometheans o Question the Romantic ideal of Nature separate from humans in the Anthropocene. Emphasize both the problem and the opportunity in mega-cities and urban areas. o Argue that environmentalists have long suffered from a technological bias towards “soft path” and pricing mechanism approaches. o Instead, need to consider a broader menu of technological options and the role of government in fostering, including natural gas drilling; nuclear power; carbon capture and storage; genetically engineered food, and geo- engineering. @MCNisbet
  21. 21. Networked Knowledge JournalismBridging and Blurring Discourses o “The idea here is not just to highlight points of communality and sites for compromise, but also to provide possibilities for contestation and the reflection it can induce.”– John Dryzek o “There is no kumbaya moment. You never get everyone on the same page,” and you never reach consensus. “What‟s possible is a world where different stakeholders „get‟ that the world looks different to people who hold different stakes.”– Jay Rosen o “Bringing an end to our ideological arms race will ultimately require that we force partisans out of their comfort zone by redefining those problems in ways to which partisans do not already know the answers.”– Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus @MCNisbet
  22. 22. The Dot Earth BlogRevkin as Explainer, Informed Critic and Convenor @MCNisbet
  23. 23. The Dot Earth BlogRevkin as Explainer, Informed Critic and Convenor @MCNisbet
  24. 24. www.ClimateShiftProject.org @MCNisbet

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