Friday, February 26, 2021

How a Texas TV Reporter Gained Confidence to Cover Climate Change


Covering Climate NowThis article is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global consortium of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story.

When you’re a local journalist, like me, you become a collector of useful tidbits. A keeper of facts about your community. After a while, you end up knowing a little about a lot. Because of that, when big news happens, local reporters can quickly make sense of what’s happening.

But unlike the coverage of breaking news—which we do with ease—providing context for the big, ongoing stories of our time can give us heartburn.

That’s particularly true with climate change.

That’s why I’m collaborating with Covering Climate Now, a consortium of more than 460 news outlets worldwide committed to better coverage of the climate story. Covering Climate Now promotes best practices and organizes workshops where reporters can learn to fold climate change into their daily beats. With a little training, I’ve found, it’s possible to see how climate change intersects with important local issues like commercial development, public health, and transportation.

How did I get interested in a project like this?

At WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate station in Dallas–Fort Worth, I host a segment called Verify Road Trip. It’s my job to take viewers along on my reporting trips. They see what I see, ask their own questions, and reach their own conclusions.

For our most ambitious episode yet, broadcast in November 2019, I wanted to take a climate doubter to explore his skepticism by meeting top climatologists and visiting Alaska to see melting glaciers for himself.

But immediately, there was a problem. I had no idea what I was talking about. Yes, I’d read plenty about climate change. I accepted the logic about why it’s happening. But it’s not like you can just google “climate change” and feel prepared to wade into a topic that the then–president of the United States was calling a “hoax.”

The truth is, I had never explored—for myself—the documentation that establishes, beyond a doubt, that climate is changing. And digging down into bedrock science on a subject so full of noise and passion felt like a task I didn’t have the time or taste for.

On the rare occasions when I absolutely had to report about climate, I found myself defaulting to both-sidesism—saying that “climate change is controversial” and giving both sides equal weight in my story.

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