Adapt, media, we need you!

I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have, the pick up in media reporting on climate change whenever a weather-related disaster occurs, especially around major events such as Hurricane Sandy, the prolonged Texas droughts and the Colorado wildfires.  And reporters are coming from a wide variety of beats, including politics, community affairs and real estate.  That diversity of story approaches is a dream come true for communications professionals such as I.  I am eager to see more proactive climate-change coverage, not just that in response to a crisis. That encouraging development is why I’m so bummed – and disturbed – to see the demise of the environmental desk at some of the top news outlets in the U.S.  This is troublesome because objective third-party reporting helps us understand the issues, the politics that often surround them, and the solutions to these precarious challenges. We need that coverage, perhaps even more than we need the reporting that accompanies a weather-related emergency.

What does it reflect that the NYTimes is dismantling its environment desk of seven reporters and two editors and placing them elsewhere, while at the same time dropping its Green Blog?  Why is the Washington Post reassigning its lead climate reporter off the environmental beat? They’re not alone. Four years ago, CNN dropped its environmental team and the network’s environmental coverage today is weaker. NBC slashed its staff of environmental reporters in 2008 – in the middle of Green Week!

Have the continual readership studies that news shops take in today’s fiercely competitive media world revealed that readers and listeners tune out on such coverage? Are other beats suddenly becoming more newsworthy and requiring additional resources?  I would like to know.  I also would love to ask veteran Pulitzer Prize judges whether they see fewer entries of investigative stories or series on environmental issues.

We’ve seen environmental-reporting cycles before. But why is this happening again at a time when Congress, the administration and corporate leaders are acknowledging climate change and the damages it’s triggering? As for consumers, surveys certainly indicate they are interested in environmental issues and what companies are doing to combat greenhouse gases and other pollutants. So what gives?

I seriously doubt that Mother Jones can go it alone on the environmental front within the print media, along with respected bloggers such as Marc Gunther and Aman Singh to pick up the slack.

In less than a week, a sell-out crowd will converge at the National Adaptation Forum in Denver.  Government, corporate and academic voices will debate, provoke and solve.  It’s a frame up for the media to get ahead of climate adaptation or, if they would prefer to think about it in their market’s terms, the next storm that undoubtedly will grace their websites’ home pages in the next 12 months.

I, for one, am going to look with interest at how many journalists – environmental specialists and those who aren’t – will attend the Forum. It will serve as another litmus test of the media’s genuine interest in covering issues that will determine if our planet withstands what the experts maintain lies ahead on climate change.

One more thing: Let’s give a shout out to a kickstarter-type campaign to pay for climate journalists. And let’s all ante up to help us adapt! Because what are the consequences when media interest evaporates as our environment evaporates?