Journalism

ORGANIC JOURNALISM

Public-interest journalism has two elements (see for an in-depth article on the topic Martin Moore, Public Interest, Media Neglect, British Journalism Review Vol. 18, No. 2, 2007, pages 33-40).

The first is as a watchdog, holding the powerful to account, exposing fraud, deceit, corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. This watchdog role is important not just for holding those in power to account, but because those in power know they’re being held to account.

The second element of public-interest journalism is much less discussed, yet in many ways more important, especially in our world of information overload. This is the responsibility to inform, explain and analyze. Public interest journalists find, digest and distill information that helps the public form views and make decisions. This is the element that interests us in the climate change coverage.

But both elements of public-interest journalism are coming under threat, with important and disturbing implications for a democratic society. The threats come from four directions: from an untrustworthy Government no longer convinced of the value of the fourth estate; from increasingly powerful and image-conscious corporations; from a bombarded and bewildered public; and from media that are failing to live up to their public interest responsibilities.

Organic Journalism as Public Interest Journalism

Organic Journalism is a hybrid concept that mixes public interest journalism with environmental reporting.

Environmental reporting (or environmental bias in writing news and stories) constitutes one of the biggest challenges for the journalists today. Unfortunately, the media system decides what are the mainstream news and journalistic style. Ecological awareness is incumbent in a liberal society, a society that is able to create a ‘social responsibility’ type of mass media.

Environmental journalism theorists insist on ‘risk assessment’. The question ‘how risky?’ puts journalists in front of a situation in which they should know and learn many indicators that create uncertainty. Bernadette West separates this question into two sides: technical and non-technical. On the technical side, the journalist wants to know „how many people are likely to be injured …, or how much ecosystem damage is likely to be sustained” (see for more Bernadette West, Peter M. Sandman, Michael R. Greenberg – „The Reporter’s Environmental Handbook”, Rutger University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1995, 6).

The language of risk, however, whilst writing and reporting on climate change related issues surpasses any model. It is a back-of-the-mind issue and not a front-of-the-mind one. Since dangers posed by a runaway climate change risk are not tangible, immediate or visible in everyday life, one may not find them newsworthy. However, when the risk becomes acute and visible, it will be already too late to action.

Reporting on climate change forwards negative prescriptions. Most media materials are about saving, cutting back, retreatment, retrenchment. Naturally, these are also important; driving more economical cars, walking more often or rationalizing water consumption are positive small actions. Yet “no approach based mainly upon deprivation is going to work. We must create a positive model of a low-carbon future – and, moreover, one that connects with ordinary, everyday life in the present” (for more, consult Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2009, 11).

We base future policies on too abstract risks. Society reacts when risk is genuine, but with climate change the risk will occur too late and it will be impossible to react. When greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be over acceptable limits, we will not be able to get back, but only to adapt.

Organic Journalism. How to Do It?

An “organic reporting” is rooted in the civil society’s actions and set of beliefs. Environmental issues, and especially climate change related, must previously create a media studies research-based demand in the public sphere in order to come forth with salient journalism materials.

Therefore,

1.     A content analysis research within previous NGOs public communication must be carried out before tackling environmental (i.e. climate change) related issues.

2.     A partnership with a mainstream news agency or independent portal is essential in order to publish/post all materials on the “carrier’s” news flow.

3.     A further partnership with the environmental NGOs must lead to policy recommendations.

4.     Creation of a dedicated media platform.

5.     Results of content analysis research are gathered by the reporters and considered public interest demand – a basis for his or her news reporting.

6.     Actual reporting (based on transparent and independent funds) of issues or events of high importance as convened with the NGO research – projection of the issues in the public sphere.

7.     Follow-up of reported materials and set up of a Policy Recommendations Report backed by all partner environmental NGOs.

Research on Information Demand

The Concept of „Frame”

The traditional content analysis shows the manifest content of a text, quantifying concepts with statistical tools. However, the texts have inherent, concealed meanings coming out of the semantics. Moreover, the concepts present themselves in a net of relationships between themselves. The concept in itself could not have an inherent meaning.

Theoretical Considerations

Content analysis, after years of practice, states McQuail, is „less concerned with manifest content and more flexible about objectivity”. Even though this research method is continuing to be systematic, quantitative and descriptive, it started to gain new nuances. New sorts of categories are introduced into the research and they give more usefulness to the interpretation. However, they are „‘low’ in ‘objectivity’ and somehow ambiguous”. At the same time, these categories capture new values, themes, style and interpretative frames. Many content analyses nowadays extend „from the relative ‘hardness’ of data about the topic of a certain unit of analysis to „the relative softness of giving values to some classifying variables of (…) direction or general theme”.

Referring to content analysis, Entman considers that the main purpose of determining the textual meaning should be „to identify and describe frames”. Content analysis backed up by a theory of framing would not treat all the outcomes of a quantitative research as „equally salient and influential”. The author defines the term ‘salience’ as „making a piece of information more noticeable, meaningful or memorable to audiences”. Drawing conclusions from dominant meanings, results of a quantitative content analysis, is not enough, thinks Entman. The most salient clusters of messages, the frames, are left outside in a quantitative content analysis. Moreover, the data yield in such an analysis could simply not represent the message that the journalist has constructed and the audience has picked up. Applying Entman’s theory to the case of climate change reporting one could observe that the percentage of environmental perspectives on the issue of a global climate deal and of the other coded concepts is just cold data about a serious issue which does not completely satisfy the theoretical research question.

Berger considers that an interpretative frame is the expression of „a story that provides the means of telling other stories within it”. The case of COP16 coverage offers many opportunities to identify clusters of new information deriving from one another within the same coded concept or among the coded texts. The definition of framing, that Entman comes up with, includes two important terms: ‘selection’ and ‘salience’. To frame, stresses the author, „is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described”.

Goffman thinks that the frame is a word that one uses to refer to certain basic elements that are easily identifiable. These basic elements are built up in accordance with principles of organization, which govern events, social events, and one’s subjective involvement in them. The author proposes a linear presentation of the terms not necessarily a circular one. No term should be introduced during the research because it would burden the whole findings until that point.

Multiple frames of meaning interpret texts or recorded experiences. By frame, Thomas R. Lindlof understands a segment of social action (or a part of a text) that has been articulated further by means of an analytic tool. As opposed to the quantitative approach, which is mainly reductive, the analytic tool of framing not only preserves, but expands the many meanings of a chosen sample. The method is extremely subjective and relative; the researcher has the discretionary right to interpret the text however he or she likes. A text is nothing but a coherent cluster of signifiers, in semiotic terms. The text signifies something when „it becomes situated in a context of interpretation”. Lindlof’s view comes from cultural studies’ perspective, though.

Finally, we sort things out. Frames include four functions. They

– define problems – identify what a causal agent is doing;

diagnose causes – identify the forces of the causal agent;

make moral judgments – evaluate causal agents;

suggest remedies – offer and justify treatments for the problems.

Frames have also four locations in the communication process:

– communicators – the journalists in this very case;

text – certain key words, stereotyped images, judgments and others, which appear in the articles, selected;

receiver – the audience, Romanian readers; it may or may not reflect the frames from the text and of the communicator;

– environmental culture –  common frames specific of the thinking and the discourse of most people in a social grouping; in the specific case of climate change mitigation and adaptation it would include symbols, stereotypes and models of thinking shared by the majority of the Romanians, as well as social and political realities.

Bibliography

–       Entman, Robert M., „Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm”, Journal of Communication 43 (4), Autumn, 1993

–       Goffman, Erwin, “Frame Analysis”, Northeastern University Press, 1987

–       Lindlof, Thomas R., „Qualitative Communication Research Methods”, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks,1995

–       Berger, Arthur Asa, “Media Research Techniques”, Second Edition, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 1998

–       McQuail, Denis, “Mass Comunication Theory”, Sage Publications, London, 1987

 

Adaptation and Mitigation

Borrowed from evolutionary biology, the term “adaptation” has come into widespread use in the climate change literature. In a way it is a misleading term because it implies reacting to the implications once it has occurred. However, just like our efforts to limit the warming of the world’s climate, adaptation, as far as possible, has to be anticipatory and preventive.

Even though reactive adaptation is necessary, a generator of public policies is the proactive adaptation.

Proactive adaptation can be defined as diagnose and response to vulnerabilities. And vulnerability is about risk – the risk of suffering damage to a valued activity, way of life or resource. Vulnerability is plainly an economic and social phenomenon, not just one concerned with physical environment. The opposite of vulnerability is resilience, from this perspective. Resilience is the adaptive capacity – active and positive responses to external changes or shocks. There is a natural resilience – capacity of the local environment to withstand changes, but, defined as a quality of a group, it concerns factors such as the capacity of members of a community to act together rather than become divided or fragmented; or to be able to modify or even transform existing ways of life. For example a smallholder who grows a variety of crops will be more resilient than the one depending upon a single cash crop.

Concepts to Follow during the Research

Romanian media does not have resilience to climate change politics. This large topic is not systematically covered in the media. The content analysis research will focus on the following concepts:

1.     Foregrounding. Climate change must be kept at the core of the political agenda; it must be a front-of-the-mind issue. Consequently, climate change and green economy information is generally newsworthy and of public importance, thus 2C is planning to keep it in the public sphere.

2.     Climate change positives. It won’t be possible to mobilize against global warming simply on the basis of avoiding future dangers. Climate change politics involve thinking on the long term rather on the ephemeral. New policies and business opportunities are key factors in reporting on climate change and not merely on catastrophic effects and eco-chic tabloid-like reporting.

3.     Political transcendence. Responding to climate change is not a left-right issue; it is an overall political agreement. It normally affects political and economic journalists that tend to have a contentious approach on climate change politics.

4.     The development imperative. Poorer countries must have the right to develop economically even if this process involves a relative growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

5.     Overdevelopment. In the rich countries, affluence itself produces a range of profound social problems.

6.     Proactive adaptation. Climate change will happen whatever we do from now onwards, adaptation must be worked out and reported on alongside mitigation.