Environmental journalism: dumbing it down

By far the most informative session I attended today was “Rising Waters: How to Cover an Environmental Threat.” Environmental reporting is something that I’m interested in but know little about, so when I saw it on the schedule today, I felt motivated to learn something new.

Bob Marshall, the speaker at this session has been covering the rising sea levels in Louisiana for years. He spoke a lot about the scientific reasons for this change in sea level, what it means for New Orleans and how he goes about reporting it.

Interviewing scientists is a daunting task, even for someone with years of experience. Marshall gave a few tips about how to interview someone about a complicated and technical subject without feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Get the facts.
  2. Ask scientists to explain things in laymen’s terms or to paraphrase.
  3. If the story deals with a scientific study or a survey, contact the people in charge.
  4. Graphics speak louder than words.
  5. Don’t leave the interview with unanswered questions.
  6. Preventative journalism is better than forensic journalism (Make people care about environmental issues now instead of 20 years from now).

The most important thing I took away from this session is that when covering an environmental threat, it’s a journalist’s job to understand the science and keep a working relationship with the experts. Be the intermediary between the professional and the audience.

Katy Canada

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