Climate change in the evening news

In most Western countries, television news segments need two elements, no matter what the topic is: an event that has just happened, and actual images that prove that it is true, such as a tornado or a handshake, depending on topic. Sometimes, a complement, such as an analysis of the issue by an expert can be a plus, in order to give meaning to the news, or at least a context, but it is not essential. Most journalists try to present both sides of every issue; so whenever there is a press conference, a decision by authorities, a new law, a demonstration, or a political event related to the environment, the media will report the issue in order to cover what has been announced in a previous press release or memorandum on a press wire.

For instance, when presenting an ongoing debate or a new controversy, journalists will try to get comments and opinions from an official voice of the administration (or government), who will be criticized (or contradicted) by a politician from the opposing party, an expert from civil society, or some representative from an environmental movement such as Greenpeace. Greenpeace receives the full attention of many news teams when they organize a spectacular event, fulfilling the media's quest for breaking news with striking images.

In some exceptional cases, the media will present events that are not new, but rather a part of history. On special occasions, for instance during the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, or a number of years following the Exxon Valdez disaster, the media might review the years that have passed, but only if there are significant events that are organized by groups or associations regarding that timeframe. This would be an opportunity for evaluating the progress and consequences that might have been witnessed during that period.

Television news is one of the most common ways to communicate scientific issues to a general audience. In that context, reporters who are neither scientists, nor experts, but just communicators who report what they have witnessed, translate scientific news into ordinary terms. Although experts and scientists are often consulted and quoted, journalists have the capacity to interpret, edit, quote outside the context, holding the ability to have the last word on the subject. On these occasions, some hypotheses, models, intuitions, or trends explained in detail and with much nuance by scientists can be misinterpreted or misunderstood by facts being stated by inexperienced journalists, who at times need to cover the entire subject in under a minute. That is the price scientists have to pay to find a wider audience, quite different from a university chair, a conference for scholars, or a scientific article. However, some devoted journalists spe cialize in scientific news and will often join various networks of colleagues who share the same interests in science, nature, and environmental issues. Associations such as the Society of Environmental Journalists allow such cooperation, although there is still much debate about climate change and related issues in these circles.

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