Taking ‘journalistic balance’ too far

By Steve Outing

Continuing on my temporary climate change theme (I hope you’ll bear with me just a bit longer), I want to offer this excerpt from a column by Sacramento Bee executive editor and senior VP Rick Rodriquez:

“A group of the world’s leading scholars on climate change had a message for news executives earlier this week: In reporting the global warming story, you have taken ‘journalistic balance’ too far.

“A bit of a switch since the media are usually accused of not being balanced enough.

“The scientists’ point cut to the core of how journalists do stories. Is it right, they asked, to give equal weight to the comparatively small number of scientists who say humans aren’t contributing to climate change when the vast majority of those who have studied the issue say they are?

“In other words, when is there enough science for the media to say global warming is occurring rather than framing it as an unresolved issue?”

I’m glad Rodriquez acknowledges the scientists’ views, but I’m disappointed in his remarks further down, such as this:

“These will be the subjects of the next generation of news stories on global warming. What newspapers and other media can do is try to provide context, connect the dots and ask tough questions in order to further the public debate.

“On many of those questions, there are no definitive answers yet. That means there will be more of the ‘he said, she said’ journalistic balancing the scientists complained about.

“But it will also mean an important issue will remain in the public view and consciousness. And in every debate on a controversial issue, that’s an important step toward finding the right answers.”

To my mind, that’s wimping out and ignoring the point those scientists were making. It ensures that the news media will not be part of the solution, but rather accomplices with global warming’s skeptics in blocking human actions that might help to alleviate the inevitable problems coming our way (and already in clear evidence).

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!