A ringside seat at the end of the world: Enviro-journalism in decline



The Society of Environmental Journalists is celebrating their 20th year with a conference in Missoula, Montana. It’s a place I’ve never been, and I am happy to report that it’s a sweet college town full of bicycles and locally brewed beer and surrounded by mountains.

Our first session is a gathering of environmental journalists from around the world. The SEJ is a North American-based organization, serving to advance and support the cause of environmental story-telling, and part of what they do is stage these conferences, where journalists can get together and drink and trade business cards.

Yup. Enviro-journalists have business cards. You’d think by now we’d have carbon neutral holograms pop out of our pockets to share info, but apparently not just yet.

The session I’m describing, then, is pretty special in that it’s a transatlantic gathering. Journalists from Spain, Norway, Italy, France and other countries are sitting in a circle with the rest of us, and the journalistic landscape looks pretty much the same.

Deplorable, in a word.

Diminishing funds, deteriorating newsrooms, an audience who doesn’t read — or if they do read, an audience with disaster fatigue and climate change boredom.

It’s pretty depressing, though I gotta say it’s rocking cool to be talking to these foreign journalists.

Then, one French journalist starts talking about a journalist he interviewed who has started his own blog about sports, with lots of bells, whistles, smoke and mirrors, and that this endeavor could someday replace the gainful employment the man lost when his newspaper when belly up.

The French journalist describes this endeavor as “entrepreneurial journalism” but I miss-hear him.

I think he’s saying “entropy-neurial journalism.”

An apt misunderstanding, methinks. Journalism about the environment is in a kind of entropy freefall. Throughout the country — and I learn today, throughout much of Europe as well — newspapers are cutting back on environmental reporters. Meanwhile, the blogosphere is filled with bogus information, climate skeptics hell-bent on hastening the apocalypse (for what reason they do this, I can not say).

And so the closer we edge to the coming cataclysm of global warming, acidified oceans, ruined rivers, eroded soil, collapsing species and rampant infectious disease, the fewer outlets to tell those stories.

Fortunately, toward the end of the session, people rouse themselves to action, describe success stories, speculate on favorable changes, so we don’t leave the event depressed — not at all.

The very fact we discussed these issues at all is exciting; enthralling, even.

Besides, isn’t entropy a law of the universe? Perhaps it’s supposed to deteriorate, this old model of journalism, and fragment into a million pieces. After all what did journalism do to stall this coming eco-collapse?

Perhaps the new forms can spread the word more effectively. Lots of social media, of course, but lots of community-based, human-to-human contact as well.

With an entire planet in trouble, everything, ultimately, is local.

Jim Poyser watches it all fall apart on


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