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Media, Politics and the Environment 1: News

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1 Media, Politics and the Environment 1: News
Week 4

2 Environmental journalism
Exploring risks and hazards Translating complex scientific issues into simple language and STORIES Using varied sources: scientists, policy makers, NGOs, business, consumers, involved (e.g., local) people, the general public Major issue areas for environmental journalism today: Climate change Sweet water shortage Environmental justice Population Biodiversity (Source: Bob Wyss: Covering the Environment. How Journalists Work the Green Beat. Routledge, 2008.)

3 Environmental journalism: history
From 1960s: a few news organizations 1400 environmental journalists in the US today 7500 journalists in the world say they cover the environment (IFEJ, 2001) Many are part time environmental journalists at smaller scale media (also cover other issues) Origins: outdoor adventure and nature writing Environmental journalism in the mainstream: a) separate “environmental stories” b) as part or aspect of any story

4 News journalism: story genres
Straight news account: No dominant narrative frame other than outlining the basic who, what, when where, why and how Conflict Story: A focus on conflict inherent to the situation or brewing among the players Consensus Story: An emphasis on the points of agreement around an issue or event Conjecture Story: A focus around speculation of what is to come Process Story: An explanation of the process of something or how something works List continued....

5 Historical Outlook: How the current news fits into history
Horse Race: Who is winning and who is losing Personality Profile: A profile of the newsmaker Trend Story: The news as an ongoing trend Policy Explored: A focus on exploring policy and its impact 12% Reaction Story: A response or reaction from one of the major players Wrongdoing Exposed: The uncovering of wrongdoing or injustice Source: FRAMING THE NEWS. The Triggers, Frames, and Messages in Newspaper Coverage. (Content analysis of first page stories in US newspapers).

6 Frequency of genres Combative genres: Three genres -- conflict, winners and losers and revealing wrongdoing -- accounted for 30% of all stories. Straight news accounts: 16%-- Explanatory stories (how things work, how they fit into larger trends, or historical context) 12% of all stories.

7 Objectivity: The search for truth
“Everyone agrees that journalists must tell the truth, but people are befuddled by that the truth means.” Kovach and Rosenstiel: Elements of Journalism Truth: differences in science, religion and journalism

8 When a scientist says something is true, what does he or she mean?
Achieved through a process of observation; followed by theory building to account for observations. Scientific theories can be tested and verified. Two scientists performing the same experiment should achieve the same results. Would two journalists write the same story the same way?

9 Scientific truth Four steps of scientific methods:
1. theory and hypothesis 2. empirical observations, experiments and calculations to test hypothesis 3. original hypothesis is either accepted or rejected 4. original theory could be modified Others can repeat the experiment Robert Koch and TB

10 Religious truth Religious truth: Revealed to men and women in divine contacts and passed to generations in sacred traditions (texts and rituals) Usually cannot be tested or verified Must be accepted as a matter of faith Exceptions: meditative practices (e.g., in Buddhism) that can be seen as ‘technologies of mind’, or tests.

11 Journalistic truth Largely based on reporting what someone has said: it is taken on belief that it is true, but should be verified. Sometimes based on what the reporter has seen and experienced first hand.

12 What is Truth? Three kinds of truth: Scientific truth Religious truth
Journalistic truth Based on what someone has said or seen. Sometimes cannot be verified. Belief and faith. Usually cannot be verified. Based on experiment and observations, which are tested repeatedly. Can and should be verified. Emphasize: 1. This is not a hierarchy of truths: just different kinds of truth 2. Difference between when a scientist says something is true, and when a journalist says something is true, and when a religious person says something is true.

13 Are eyewitness accounts the answer?
Psychologists point out that seeing is not always believing. Confirmation bias: we tend to seek and recollect facts according to our pre-existing ideas. Information that runs counter to our ideas tends to be discounted.

14 Towards the journalistic method:
“I made it a principle not to write down the first story that came down my way, and not even to be guided by my own general impressions; either I was present myself at the events which I have described, or else I heard of them from eyewitnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible. Not that even so the truth was easy to discover: different eyewitnesses gave different accounts of the same events, speaking out of partiality for one side or the other, or else from imperfect memories.” The Greek historian Thucydides (5 BC) describing his method

15 1. Accuracy: getting facts right
A basic principle of journalism, but the one that is missed the most often due to time pressures, carelessness or ignorance. Accuracy involves checking everything from the spelling of names and facts, to getting quotes accurately.

16 2. Verification of facts Are the statements and facts reported, both accurate and true? “In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art.” Kovach and Rosenstiel

17 Arriving at a reasonably reliable version of the truth takes time
Arriving at a reasonably accurate account of any event is a process that could take several days, weeks or longer -Initially, journalists get the facts down accurately as stated by people -Next, they verify these facts, if not the same day, the next day -If there are inconsistencies, journalists should keep checking and verifying and looking for new facts until they feel you a have a complete story

18 3. Journalists should acknowledge their own preconceived notions
Actively look for information that counters what you believe If after making an honest effort you cannot find such information, you can be a little bit more confident in your story

19 The importance of good editors
Editors play an extremely important role in erifying and checking the integrity of a story: a reporter cannot do this alone. Editors should go through stories line by line checking facts as well as assertions. E.g., if a story reads “according to sources” editors should check. Who are the sources? How many are there? Is it just one? Are there enough sources? Editors can help remove the reporters unconscious biases

20 Techniques to improve accuracy
The San Jose Mercury News accuracy checklist: - Is the lead sufficient supported? - Has someone double checked names, titles, web addresses etc in a story? - Are all the stakeholders in a story identified, contacted and given a chance to comment? - Does the story pick sides and make subtle value judgements? - Are the quotes accurate and capture what the person wanted to say - Is anything missing?

21 The importance of method
Journalism needs to develop a set of objective, transparent techniques and methods for news reporting. Reporters should make clear where information comes from. After a story is published, editors should consider checking with the subjects of the story what they think about it. This will also help reassure the public about the credibility of the press.

22 The importance of attitude
Humility: reporters can only ever know a small part of the truth. They should be willing to acknowledge this. An awareness of his or her own biases. Intellectual honesty. Objective and transparent methods.

23 Journalistic dishonesty
The most common form of intellectual dishonesty : "journalists who select sources to express what is really their own point of view, and then use a neutral voice to make it seem objective are engaged in a form of deception.” ~ “The Elements of Journalism”

24 The meaning of objectivity in journalism
The word objectivity is misused to indicate neutrality, or balance. In practice, this is not fully possible. What journalists need to do, is use methods of information gathering and reporting that are objective and transparent (easily understandable by the public). Objectivity as a method: a procedural approach.

25 Criticisms of objectivity
‘Sources rulez’: journalists rely on the prominent and elite as their translators or mediators. Objectivity against independent thinking, creativity, imagination, critical perspectives; just a technique by journalists=disinterested spectators. Objective journalists claim they just report and are not responsible for creating news. Objective journalists are amoral.

26 Alternatives to objectivity
Advocacy journalism (advocating issues, topics, frames, agenda, purpose, argument) Investigative journalism (independent research, in-deep, long projects to uncover hidden facts; often involves conflict with economic or political power holders) Interpretive journalism (causal analysis, explaining meaning) Partisan journalism (serving a political party or group) Public journalism (“news bottom up”: focus on local community members and involving them

27 Alternatives to objectivity cont-d
Literary journalism (mixing journalism with literature as an art form) Peter Hessler Gonzo journalism (subjective journalism, “first person”, “putting me, the journalist first”: Hunter Thompson) Development journalism (post-1960s, moving out of post-colonial struggle to support modernization in third world countries, mobilize public, public service, etc)

28 Objectivity and media pluralism
Media pluralism: on a competitive media market, all forms of objective and other (partisan, advocacy, literary, etc.) media may survive “Truth emerges” from accounts of competing sources Multiple segments of national media systems: partisan, objective, advocacy, etc. media Audience members may choose and oppose different accounts

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