The Biggest News in Climate Journalism in Some Time: The Climate Desk

By Chris Mooney | April 20, 2010 8:12 am

Yesterday came the announcement of an unprecedented collaboration to create climate change journalism. Meet The Climate Desk:

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new public-affairs show Need To Know.

There has never been a joining of forces like this…but there is every reason to expect it will produce much valuable content. Moreover, The Climate Desk’s expressed raison d’etre makes four points that I heartily agree with:

1) Climate change is slow-moving, vast, and overwhelming for news organizations to grapple with. 2) What coverage there is tends to be fractured and compartmentalized—science, technology, politics, and business aspects are covered by different teams, or “desks” of reporters, despite the intrinsic connections. 3) Coverage is too often fixated on imperiled wildlife, political gamesmanship, or the “debate” over the existence of climate change, all at the expense of advancing the bigger story—how we’re going to address, mitigate, or adapt to it. 4) Cuts to news organizations are making matters worse.

Yes, indeed, yes. So go check out The Climate Desk, and become a follower. We need all the help we can get.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Environment, Global Warming

Comments (13)

Links to this Post

  1. Climate Desk « EarthLede | April 20, 2010
  1. Anthony McCarthy

    This is big news. I hope they are aware that they are going to be attacked by people with more money than fought healthcare. Because that’s a guarantee. And they’ll have lots of other “journalists” carrying their dirty water for them.

  2. Gaythia

    I too, think this is great news.

  3. David

    Honestly, I don’t see a big future in it and it has nothing to do with the topical nature.

    If a journalist writes a good story, it will be carried by the originating publication. They will not want to lose out on the readers. Yeah, they may not be their own staff writers, but freelance journalism has been around a long time. Journalists need to eat as well.

    It will most likely end up either as the equivalent of an RSS feed or be a dumping ground for articles that they didn’t deem high enough quality for their own site/publication.

    The only thing that might save it is if they pick up some good new contributors that will be theirs alone.

  4. I can see why you’d think that David, but already we’re overcoming those competitive instincts and running pieces, in full, that originated with one partner across all the sites. This is happening with the overwhelming majority of the pieces running in the next two weeks. And coordinated assigning and content swaps are only one form of collaboration we hope to test out. And we’re using both staff writers and great freelance writers.

    Clara Jeffery
    Mother Jones

  5. Clara (@4), This sounds like you have the desk well structured. My biggest concern is that the news and information will stay withing a small group of people who already read several of those media anyway. Unless and until we reach a wider audience including that of Fox News, the problem will not resolve.

    There are too many freelance “journalists” who believe the new media Field of Dreams premise, that if you build it, someone will come. In fact people tend to turn to those media that will confirm their notions of how the world is rather than challenging them with new information. I have often made the point that those who read this, and comment so freely, need to be taking the next step… that of becoming the local amplifier in local media. It is that idea which led me to talk to the editor of my very local 2 x weekly paper and to get a monthly Green Talk column. I hope that more readers will combat the Unscientific America-n Media by doing the same.

  6. David

    Clara Jeffery:

    I did read the stories that you have posted on the site so far and found them interesting and well written. I can see where you could do a better job by not having to support a quality staff for every organization. If the organizations are committed to not stepping on each other it could work. I could be proven wrong. Hopefully, if it succeeds, it will also not lead to stagnation by having a limited number of voices and stories.

    It is interesting to see the growing pains that all forms of journalism are going through. We have seen an explosion of independent blogs coming out on all topics but without editorial oversight, they are not generally held to the higher standard of journalistic integrity. It will be great if your site brings more quality stories that meet the high standards of your parent publications.

    I wish you all the best luck.

  7. David

    Wes @5:

    Although there is some area of overlap just because journalists are people and have their rights to an opinion and to participate as citizens, the journalistic role is as advocate and not activist. To report the news and not make it.

    As to reaching the people of Fox news, convince them. Explain in terms that will get them to change their minds from their course that doesn’t agree with the direction that you thing they are missing.

    Just remember though, the right to free speech doesn’t guarantee an audience.

  8. David @7:

    “Just remember though, the right to free speech doesn’t guarantee an audience.”

    My point, exactly. We each have a responsibility to expand the audience, not just to be cheerleaders for those who have done the hard work, the real journalists. I don’t see how you confused that point with the implication that I wanted journalists to be other than the recorders of facts.

  9. David

    Hi Wes,

    You mentioned that the journalists were waiting for something to happen after building their “field of dreams”. They can write it but it takes more to actually get people to read it.
    They need to write to their audience. The way people are approaching this is pretty one sided, my way or the highway, kind of way. Communication is a conversation and not someone driving by with a bullhorn.

    They need to write to multiple audiences. Most of the environmental advocates are liberal politically as well. Nothing wrong with that. What happens though is that they are promoting science and environmental issues, they also link in the other liberal issues that are not related. It is as if they cannot rationalize that someone might be conservative on some issues and still be on the same page regarding science or the environment. So what do they end up doing? They alienate the conservatives because they do not agree on ALL issues as well. These issues impact liberals and conservatives alike.

    As long as people take a partisan approach, they are going to get a partisan response.
    It is the same environment whether you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or whatever else you can think of.

  10. Neuro-conservative

    Preacher, choir, same old song.

  11. I am happy to read about that initiative. I believe that the US media have a very important role to play in “waking up” the American public. There are very basic things that are not really mainstream and need to get there:

    1. Every human being can emit 2 tons of carbon dioxide per year. If it’s more, we’ll wreck the climate. Current state of affairs in the US: 20+ tons.

    2. It is possible to have a good quality of life, better than we are having now, and for more people with less than 2t emissions. Many solutions exist and just need to be spread. We can for sure get to a zero-emissions society by 2050 without any “harm”.

    I wish you would help in spreading that story!

    best wishes from Mexico,


  12. Marion Delgado

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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