By TIM WHEELER
No story dominates environmental news coverage these days like climate change. To be sure, there still are pressing environmental issues that have little or nothing to do with climate, such as human exposure to toxic chemicals. Butclimate affects so much of the natural and human world that it encompasses—or at least connects with— many of the traditional environmental stories reporters have covered for years, including fisheries, energy, endangered species and pollution, to name just a handful.
To help journalists sort through the complexities and controversies around climate change, SEJ has been engaged in a persistent campaign of continuing education over the past couple of years. We've organized regional workshops and annual conference sessions on various aspects of the issue, produced tipsheets and online listings of resources, and even highlighted outstanding reporting on the topic.
Our efforts to foster more and better coverage of climate change began last year, with an online reporting toolbox featuring contact information for leading climate scientists. Later in the year, we hosted workshops for journalists in Atlanta and in Oregon, capped by a one-day "summit" at Stanford University in the fall, where we drew 18 top editors and news managers from across the country to brief them on the latest science and brainstorm with them on how to enhance their coverage.
So far this year, SEJ has organized or cosponsored four different sessions on covering climate change.
In April, while the presidential race was still a three-way contest, environmental advisers to the candidates outlined their positions on energy and climate change policy at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The session, cosponsored by BNA, Chemical & Engineering News, the Environmental Law Institute and National Geographic, garnered press coverage, and even rated broadcast by C-SPAN.
Later that same month, SEJ joined with Harvard Medical School to present a workshop for journalists on the health, ecological and economic impacts of climate change. Among the scientific experts speaking was the president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The star-studded media panel hailed from ABC, NPR, The New York Times, "Living on Earth," and The Weather Channel. It also included the president of the Associated Press Managing Editors, the editor of the Wilmington, Del. News Journal.
In May, SEJ helped plan and recruit attendees for a weeklong seminar in Washington on the varied impacts and story lines tied up in the climate-change issue. The seminar, put on by the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, was presented in collaboration with SEJ's frequent partner, the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.
Finally, in June, the Society joined with the University of Toronto's Centre for Environment to host a public forum on the complexities of carbon taxes, cap and trade and other possible financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That session, cosponsored by the Toronto Star, featured panels of carbon-finance experts and top-flight journalists from the Star, CBC and Reuters.
All that name-dropping has a point – SEJ is working with North America's leading educational, scientific and journalistic organizations to foster more and better coverage of this critical issue. That's our mission, after all: to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the accuracy, quality and visibility of reporting on them.
(And for those "skeptics" who think the climate story is overblown at best, bear in mind that SEJ is not dictating what newspapers, broadcasters or bloggers say. We're handing journalists the tools and the information to do their own reporting. There's enough uncertainty and debate around local impacts and policy responses to satisfy the biggest controversy addict.)
SEJ is not the only resource for reporters covering environmental stories, but increasingly we're recognized as an indispensable one. Al Tompkins, who produces a widely read daily tipsheet for www.poynter.org, often cites SEJ's work. And when he was looking for guest contributors to fill in this summer while he was on vacation, he turned, naturally enough, to SEJ.
Stay tuned. There's more to come. Meanwhile, much of the knowledge gleaned from those publications and events is still available online at www.sej.org , where we hope it will continue to inform and inspire journalists to keep digging into what's shaping up to be the story of the century.
Tim Wheeler, SEJ board president, covers growth and development
for The Baltimore Sun.
** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer 2008