Climate Crisis and Journalism: A Roundtable on Rethinking Media for Planetary Emergency

I'll be joining colleagues from SFU and members of the media in a roundtable discussion of the climate crisis and journalism this Monday. If you're interested in joining the discussion, come on down!

SFU Vancouver @ Harbour Centre, Room HC 7000; Monday 15 May, 5 - 7 pm

Questions for the panel

From organizer, Prof. Robert Hackett: What kind(s) of journalism (practices, institutions, policies) do we need to enable people, communities and governments to address the climate crisis effectively?  What can we learn from professional experience, and academic research concerning climate change? 

These are the questions for this panel, which takes as a starting point a new book, Journalism and Climate Crisis: Public Engagement, Media Alternatives, by R. Hackett, S. Forde, S. Gunster, and K. Foxwell-Norton (Routledge, 2017).  In part a product of the CCPA’s Climate Justice project, this book takes as a starting point the complicity of corporate news media in diverting humanity from the existential challenge posed by climate chaos.  The book’s main themes are these: 

While climate change is heavily under-reported relative to the scale of the problem, the key shortcoming of conventional news media is lack of, not information, but of agency, hope and efficacy.  Journalism needs to rethink its mission: it’s less about the informed citizen, and more about engaged publics – and mobilized social movements. 

In that light, journalism needs to complement its monitorial function (reporting on events and issues) with more emphasis on the facilitative role of promoting public discussion, and the radical role of identifying injustice, accessing marginalized voices, and advocating social change.  The latter two roles are particularly well-suited to the ‘alternative’ media, given their oppositional content, participatory production, engagement with communities and movements, and ownership and control independent of corporations and the petro-state. 

Still, no single type of journalism could meet all the demands of planetary crisis – or of democratic communication.  Previous experiments within ‘mainstream’ media, including Public Journalism and Peace Journalism, may also offer some valuable lessons for climate crisis communication.

Moreover, even within ‘western’ traditions, there are competing models of democracy, each emphasizing different roles for media. 

Democracy?  In an alarmingly short time, the global political environment appears to have shifted towards pulling up drawbridges, building walls, demonizing Others, and (to mix metaphors) scrambling for the lifeboats rather than collectively stopping the ship from sinking. 

Thus, climate crisis is arguably not just a matter of environmental degradation and economic systems, but also of political and communicative capacity.  For climate action, we need better democracy.  For better democracy, we need better media.  For better media, we need better media structures, including stronger independent media.  And for all these things, we need an active and engaged civil society.

With their combination of journalism experience and media scholarship, the panelists bring to bear their distinct perspectives on these themes.