1. I have not read the big new @NYT piece on climate, nor have I read the rapidly growing pile of takes on it. I'm leaving for 1.5 weeks of vacation tomorrow and frankly have my sanity to think about. However: a few observations on climate journalism generally, before I leave.
2. Over the past several years, the climate community has come to what seems like a pretty broad consensus around two propositions, both of which I think are wrong and dangerous.
3. The first is that climate journalists should be activists -- that the things they write about, and the way they write about them, should be shaped around making readers/viewers feel the right things and do the right things (i.e., become activists themselves).
4. The second is that we KNOW how shape journalism in such a way as to make readers/viewers feel/do the right things -- that the social science on this is advanced & solid enough to draw detailed conclusions about proper tone & word choice.
5. I think both those are wrong individually, but the combination in particular has led to some odious effects and endless, recursive, fruitless debate.
6. The main odious effect is that every piece on climate is now supposed to be the f'ing same, to follow the same template, emphasize the same things, draw the same conclusions -- because social science says they are the correct ones.
7. "Things are bad, humanity is at fault, fossil fuel cos. are preventing action, but don't worry, we can still succeed if we muster the political will!" 💤 How many times have I read that piece? Somehow we've convinced ourselves this is the "correct" sequence of messages...
8. ... yet the result is boring as F. People aren't reading/viewing this stuff & forming the next civil rights movement. They're changing the channel. Somehow all the amateur social scientists have succeeded in crafting the perfectly accurate, perfectly boring template.
9. This has made all climate journalism sound same-y and climate journalists sound like pod people who risk being flogged if they go off-message. Here's the thing, though ...
10. ... people who create journalism from a template -- a template they widely acknowledge is *designed to manipulate the audience in particular ways* -- do not sound human. They sound like activists too often sound, i.e., relentlessly & predictably "on message."
11. Whatever you think that social science study tells you, I can say from common sense & experience that nothing is easier to ignore, easier to screen out, than more on-message messaging from on-message messengers. Media consumers are busy & that shit is bland.
12. My take is that people will take a genuine personal interest in climate when they see others taking a genuine personal interest in it -- and genuine personal interest is quirky & idiosyncratic, like people are!
13. Maybe some people are pessimists & think we're f'd. Others disagree. Some want to focus on the ways climate challenges our evolved cognitive machinery. Others want to focus on fossil fuel perfidy. Maybe some want to focus on innovative technology ...
14. ... and some want to focus on the need for social/behavioral change. Some care about birds, some about oceans, some about urban density, or spirituality, or modeling, or geopolitics. Some want to exhort the audience, some to scold it, some just want to wallow in despair.
15. In my humble opinion, the very best thing any journalist can do is *pursue what interests them & what they're good at*. If you care about it, if it reflects your unique interests, if your personality animates it, that will come through. And it will be *interesting*.
16. After all, the primary problem here is not that audiences are getting the wrong climate messages but that they aren't getting any messages at all, because there's just not that much out there & what there is tends to be easy to ignore. More interesting content = better.
17. More interesting means more idiosyncratic, not less. More diverse, more various, more styles and tones and areas of focus. We need 1000 flowers to bloom. Instead we're trying to enforce a monocrop on the few flowers that do pop up. (Yes that analogy needs work.)
18. The very worst way for a journalist to spend time is joining the dogpile on literally any piece of climate content that *actually does reach a wide audience*. Here come the Very Science Messengers, on cue, explaining how this or that piece diverges from the One True Template.
19. To reiterate: we don't know the right template. All that social science on climate messaging is so, so, so much more tentative & limited than it's made out. Firm conclusions are wildly premature. (Actual social scientists will tell you this.)
20. And even if we knew the right template, I can't think of a more reliable way to make climate journalism boring & ignorable than making it *all sound the same*.
Create the climate journalism that authentically moves & interests you. Let others do the same. That is all.</fin>
You can follow David Roberts.