Overcoming a Diabolical Challenge: Comparing journalists’ and researchers’ views on the performance of the media as a channel of climate change information

Martin Ricea, Ann Henderson-Sellers & Greg Walkerden

The mass media has a fundamental role to sustain an informed citizenry as a prerequisite for democratic politics. It is, therefore, vital that an evidence-based approach is used when reporting on climate change. Yet, multiple and arguably irreconcilable tensions exist between science and mass media. For example, as media workers are trained to provide a ‘balanced’ approach, this can result in bias in climate change reporting. Additionally, various industry-related pressures mean that mainstream journalists often have limited resources and time to check the accuracy of their climate news stories with researchers. Such tensions and media coverage of alleged climate research misconduct formed the basis of a survey we have developed for an interface group of researchers and journalists who have a vested interest in climate science. The aim of this survey is to compare their attitudes on the performance of the media as a channel of climate change information. The survey was conducted in mid-2010, with responses from journalists and researchers who attended international fora for science–media interface and research integrity discussions, or accessed the survey via an international climate research programme website. Survey findings reveal, contrary to tensions described in the existing literature, a mutual intelligibility and general trust between this core group of journalists and researchers, who have a vested interest in evidence-based climate science reporting. We argue that scientifically informed interface journalists, by collaborating with scientists, can help influence mainstream journalists to better inform the public about the urgency for society to overcome the diabolical climate challenge.

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