Myth, history and environmental journalism


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Slides for a lecture at the University of Ljubljana, May 12, 2014.

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Myth, history and environmental journalism

  1. 1. + Exploring the lost history of the environment Prof. Bill Kovarik
  2. 2. Myth / history * recent myths * journalism myths Enviroment & history * Franklin 1739 * Snow 1854 * Lippmann 1924 Trends * recent issues * brief theoretical note Your ideas and questions
  3. 3. Sleep of history produces myths
  4. 4.  Mass media and Environmental Conflict  Environmental conflict not new  Environmental news coverage is as old as the news  Can’t say science and technology were unquestioned until the late 20th century Co-author of 1996 book
  5. 5.
  6. 6. Author of 2011 book  Revolutions in Communication, examines the history of communication within the larger framework of technological change.  Major theme: Circumventing media technologies are deployed when needed  Social construction of technology is more important in communication than determinism (McLuhan). So …  The medium is not always the message  People often create their media to carry the messages they prefer
  7. 7. A modern myth
  8. 8. Medved said:  "The (whale oil) story should reassure present-day pessimists of the near miraculous power of technological advancement and pursuit of profit to save the environment."  History lesson: The oil industry came from the free market and it was good. We didn’t need government regulation then, and we don’t need it now.
  9. 9. Whale oil myth
  10. 10. Before oil (1854) These are the fuels that were forced off the market by taxes in 1862. History lesson: The oil industry did not come from the free market.
  11. 11.  Environmental concerns are new  Environmentalism = substitute for religion *  Green power = black death (DDT) *  Climate science is new, untested, untried, and we can’t make policy based on it.  Environmental journalism is new * for another lecture More Modern Myths
  12. 12. Myths  Calder – “The thing that has amazed me as a lifelong journalist is how the most elementary principles of journalism seem to have been abandoned on this subject.”  Narrator - In fact the theory of manmade global warming has spawned an entirely new branch of journalism.  Calder – “You’ve got a whole new generation of reporters – environmental journalists.  “If you’re an environmental journalist, and if the global warming story goes in the trash can, so does your job. It really IS that crude.”
  13. 13. Is environmental science and controversy new? Is environmental journalism “new” ? How does the history of environmental journalism help us understand environmental controversies in the past?
  14. 14. “Forgotten History of Climate Science” Adam Frank, NPR – May 13, 2014 Climate science and climate change are older than the atom bomb, older than the discovery of penicillin and the older than recognition of DNA. It's older than trans-Atlantic jet flights, digital computers and moon rockets. Climate science and its conclusions are now venerable, established science. To claim anything else is to rewrite history.
  15. 15. Partisan press & the environment  Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Bradford, 1739, Philadelphia  Sanitation and public health  John Snow, Edwin Chadwick, 1854, London  Sanitation and cholera  Walter Lippmann, Carr Van Anda, 1924, New York City  Leaded gasoline
  16. 16. -- Benjamin Franklin, editor of the Gazette, and neighbors, petition Pennsylvania Assembly to halt waste dumping in Dock Creek and move tanneries away from Philadelphia's commercial district. -- William Bradford, editor of the Mercury, writes of this as “A Daring Attempt (attack) on the Liberties of the Tradesmen of Philadelphia." Example 1 Philadelphia 1739
  17. 17. + Benjamin Franklin  1739 -- Benjamin Franklin and neighbors petition Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia's commercial district. Foul smell, lower property values, disease and interference with fire fighting are cited. The industries complain that their rights are being violated, but Franklin argues for "public rights." Franklin and the environmentalists win a symbolic battle but the dumping goes on.
  18. 18. +  Tanners object and parade through city when they win. Andrew Bradford, editor of the Mercury, responds:  “They must be fine nos’d (nosed) that can distinguish the smell of Tannyards from that of the Common sink of near half Philadelphia…”  Franklin argues for “public rights.” It wasn't a question of the liberties of the tradesmen but rather "only a modest Attempt to deliver a great Number of Tradesmen from being poisoned by a few, and restore to them the Liberty of Breathing freely in their own Houses."
  19. 19. Example 2 : Sanitation, London  Reformers had to fight the London Times and other very conservative media  Times preferred cholera to government regulation
  20. 20. John Snow 1854
  21. 21. + Aug 1, 1854 London Times
  22. 22. Michael Faraday handing his “card” to Father Thames 1858 (Secchi card / disk)
  23. 23. Example 3 : Leaded gasoline  Even in the 1920s, at the height of the Progressive Era, the partisan press reflected broad disagreement on environmental issues.  Some sided with industry, others with workers and public health science
  24. 24. “Suppose it’s Halley’s Comet. Well first you have a half-page of decoration showing the comet, with historical pictures of previous appearances. If you can work a pretty girl into the decoration, so much the better. If not, get some good nightmare idea like the inhabitants of mars watching it pass. Then… a two column boxed ‘freak’ containing a scientific opinion which nodoby will understand, just to give it class…” -- Unnamed NY World editor, around 1912 (Emery, 1972). Science writing was yellow journalism
  25. 25. Carr Van Anda New York Times editor 1906 – 1932 Positivistic, pro-industry approach to science coverage Excellent science editor • New focus on science in Times •Corrected one of Einstein’s equations (poor transcription) •Translated Egyptian hieroglyphics
  26. 26. +Walter Lippmann - NY World (Pulitzer)  Championed the cause of the “radium girls” in 1928  Scientific controversy exemplified the difficulties of the informed democratic people ;  Science also represented a powerful institution that could stem the tide of totalitarianism
  27. 27. Ethyl leaded gas conflict 1924-26 Media reported “mystery gas” killing workers at Standard Oil refinery in Oct. 1924 Standard claimed there were no alternatives  NY World reported that alternatives existed, quoted scientists more than industry
  28. 28. Ethyl conflict source reliance
  29. 29. Ethyl conflict source reliance
  30. 30. Pulitzer’s World Environmental issues are clearly part of the news agenda in 1928 Note the tie between history and the future
  31. 31. Example 4 (Consensus / air pollution )  By the mid to late-20th century environmental protection was not partisan. Notice the Los Angels “Smog War Demanded” headline coming up.  “We celebrated great victories in the 1970s and '80s... And here we are 30, 35 years later and we're fighting the same battles.” -- David Suzuki, May 13, 2014
  32. 32. Air pollution 1939 St. Louis  St Louis Post Dispatch crusades against “smoke nuisance,” wins 1941 Pulitzer
  33. 33. Air Pollution, Donora Pennsylvania Twenty died, 600 hospitalized  Oct. 30, Donora, Pennsylvania
  34. 34. + London Dec. 4-8 1952  Four thousand people die in the worst of the London "killer fogs." Vehicles use lamps in broad daylight, but smog is so thick that busses run only with a guide walking ahead. By Dec. 8 all transportation except the subway had come to a halt.
  35. 35.  1953 -- New York smog incident kills between 170 and 260 in November.
  36. 36. Los Angeles 1954 Heavy smog conditions shut down industry and schools in Los Angeles for most of October.
  37. 37. +
  38. 38. Why wait till 1955? We may not even be alive
  39. 39. + St Louis 1958
  40. 40. Life Magazine info-graphic on Air pollution, 1963
  41. 41. Robert F. Kennedy 67-68 campaign
  42. 42. Recent trends in EH and EJ  US public opinion isolated  Public opinion divorced from science  Environmental news declining
  43. 43. Trends
  44. 44. Partisanship in US public
  45. 45. US public opinion vs science Is human activity contributing to climate change? From: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (Oreskes 2004).
  46. 46. Trends: Environmental news declining
  47. 47. Trends: Environmental Pulitzers 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
  48. 48. Q: Should we quote both sides in climate controversy?  Pro: Debate is healthy. If evidence is unbalanced, that will become obvious over time in the marketplace of ideas. Con: In a story about evolution, should journalists quote a creationist? In a story about the Earth, is it our journalistic duty to quote a flat-earth- society idiot? That’s “false balance.”
  49. 49. +
  50. 50. + Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, May 11, 2014
  51. 51. And one very sobering trend ….
  52. 52. Trends: Global Witness Report, March 2014
  53. 53. Ken Saro Wiwa  1995 -- Nov. 10. Nigerian government executes journalist and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other environmentalists. They had been active in fighting pollution from Shell Oil Co. in the Ogani homeland. International protests of Shell activities continues. Continued fighting by the “kill-and-go” armies and Shell’s guards leaves Ogoni region in ruins
  54. 54. W. Eugene Smith, photographer, killed by chemical company thugs some years after taking this photo in 1971
  55. 55. Framing and risk communication  Old health information diffusion models don’t explain complexities  Issue Framing  Situational Theory of communication  Risk Communication
  56. 56. Older health / science information diffusion model Scientist --> message -- > receiver (public) = more knowledge, new attitude, behavior change But one dimensional S-M-R models don’t work. Cultural context / info conflicts EG - HIV - needle campaign NYC 1980s (legal issues) EG - Anti-smoking (amid advertising promoting it) EG - Micronutrients in rural India and Tanzania (other conflicting information)
  57. 57. Issue Framing Historical method describing the main themes over time Standard frame for environment in mainstream media: Environmentalists -- > Government < -- Industry In this old frame, industry and government took samples, not public scientists or environmentalists Typically, controversy would emerge over the release and accuracy of the industry’s samples, not competing (and better) sample procedures.
  58. 58. Framing example - Greenpeace HEROIC 19TH C. WHALERS Replaced by HEROIC 20TH C. DEFENDERS A mind bomb was “… an action that would create a dramatic new impression to replace an old cliché. The most obvious example of a “mind bomb” was to overturn the image of heroic whalers to that of heroic ecologists risking their lives to save the gentle giants of the sea. This approach caught the world’s attention and dramatically changed the political terrain for commercial fishing and whaling operations after Greenpeace’s first whaling protests in June of 1975. Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication 2006
  59. 59. 1988 2006 2008 Exposition Consequences Solutions Framing example
  60. 60. Situational theory of publics -- Why do people communicate about science issues? Information Seeking and Information Processing Is influenced by: Problem recognition Constraint Recognition Level of Involvement This theory explains why people communicate about specific issues and helps predict when targeted communications are most likely to be effective. Simple repetition of positive messages is not likely to change opinions or behaviors. Decreasing constraints and increasing the level of involvement are better strategies.
  61. 61. Slovik risk chart
  62. 62. Outrage + hazard = Risk Peter Sandman asks: Are people upset because they think something is dangerous? Or (more commonly) do people think something is dangerous because they are upset?
  63. 63. Conclusions  Environmental journalism is not new; the issues and conflicts have been interesting to writers and observers for as long as there has been a mass media.  Forms, names, shapes and approaches may change, but the basic issues are the same  Recent trends:  The urgency and significance of issues  Financial instability of modern media  Fossil fuel disinformation campaigns misinforming the American public
  64. 64. + Allan Nevins (1890 – 1971)  Allan Nevins American journalist, worked with Walter Lippmann at Pulitzer’s World newspaper  “History is never above the melee. It is not allowed to be neutral, but forced to enlist in every army…”