Saturday, July 7, 2007

Green/Yellow Journalism

In general, I like reading Jack Shafer's columns on His most recent, a brief invective against "environmental" journalism, is a little puzzling. Opening with this broadside attack:
green journalism tends to appeal to our emotions, exploit our fears, and pander to our vanity. It places a political agenda in front of the quest for journalistic truth and in its most demagogic forms tolerates no criticism, branding all who question it as enemies of the people. Not all green journalism harangues, but even the gentlest variety sermonizes, cuts logical corners, and substitutes good intentions for problem solving.
Shafer goes on to haul a small and unimpressive set of evidence out damning environmental reporting, squaring off most directly with Slate's own "Slate Green Challenge" series, which was jointly authored with a few weeks ago.

While I tend to agree with Shafer, that, overall, journalism about environmental concerns can be sloppy, and from the perspective of an environmentalist, possibly self-defeating in so far as the softer, do-gooder reporting undermines the more serious scientific, technical, and policy reporting, it is curious that Shafer tries to hang environmental journalism on failing to prize journalistic truth and cutting logical corners, without providing more than one instance of this (the NYT article). I don't have any data in hand, but my general impression is not that "green" reporting is factually incorrect, or even incomplete, but that it suffers from too much rah-rah cheerleading and a bad case of the telling-you-what's-best-for-yous. This puts green journalism more in the camp of journalists advancing unpopular causes grounded to a journalistic truth (see Kristof on Sudan), than in the company of yellow journalists, doesn't it?

Or maybe sensationalism isn't that damning a charge, after all?

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