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Climate change communication, energy politics, and journalism: Syllabus and schedule

September 1, 2016--In this advanced seminar, students apply research and best practices to communicating about and reporting on climate change and energy issues. Course work prepares students for careers in journalism, advocacy, government, and strategic communication. Students analyze major debates over the environment, climate change, and related technologies; assessing how they are portrayed by experts, advocates, and the media; and the implications for effective journalism, communication, and policymaker engagement.  Students gain an integrated understanding of the different roles they can play as professionals, advocates, citizens, and consumers. In doing so, they will have improved their ability to find, discuss, evaluate, and use expert sources of information; assess competing media claims and narratives; think strategically and critically; and write impactful, evidence-based news stories, analyses, and commentaries. Stories are published at the New England Climate Change Review, a website covering climate and energy in New England and beyond.

COURSE ASSIGNMENTS

  • Reading Familiarity Quizzes (10%): Each Tuesday class will begin with a short quiz testing your familiarity with the assigned readings and the previous week’s major news stories.
  • News Article on New Study or Report (15%): You will choose a recently published peer-reviewed study or expert report along with their accompanying news releases, where possible. These studies should relate to a New England-related issue; or be authored by a New England-based expert or organization. For this assignment, chose one that you can develop into a 700-word news story relevant to New England readership. Take care to advance the story beyond the information provided in the paper and news release by using at least one additional interview source, who you must interview in person or by phone, or by email, and one additional piece of documentary evidence. Documentary evidence includes: a report from an official organization or institution; scientific paper; speech; policy paper; research report; or book. Please note that a media statement or press release or published news item in a newspaper, magazine, online or broadcast news item does not constitute a documentary source.  You must pitch the idea and story to me by email and I must agree to it.
  • Trend or Backgrounder Article (15%): For this assignment, you must find, develop and produce an original 800-word science news trend or background story on a topic of your choice, aimed at New England readership. The story should have at least three sources. One source must be a paper published in a scientific journal. One source must be an interview. You can write the story in a hard news format; or in a format that reflects evolving online approaches to trend and backgrounder stories such as a Vox.com story. You must pitch the idea and the format to me by email, and I must agree to it.
  • News Analysis Article (15%): Choosing among the weekly thematic topics, you must write a 1,000-word news analysis article building on, synthesizing, and evaluating the research and arguments posed, pegging the issues discussed to recent events or developments with a focus that is relevant to a New England readership. You must pitch the idea and the format to me by email, and I must agree to it. You should aim to make the news analysis a well-written and seamless discussion that combines your analysis of recent news items with references to points raised in relevant course readings.
  • Commentary / Op-Ed (15%): Choosing among the weekly thematic topics, you must write a 800 word op-ed building on, synthesizing, and evaluating the research and arguments posed, pegging the issues discussed to recent events or developments with a focus that is relevant to a New England readership. Your op-ed must have a clear point of view and distinctive voice. You must pitch the idea and the format to me by email and I must agree to it. You should aim to make your commentary a well-written and seamless argument that combines your analysis of recent news items with references to points raised in relevant course readings.
  • In Depth Report or Analysis (30%): Choosing a climate change or energy topic, you must write a 2,000-word article aimed at New England readers. Choose the topic yourselves, but you must first pitch it to me by email, and I must agree to it, before you can proceed. Stories must contain at least two original interviews and at least three documentary sources: a report from an official organization or institution; scientific paper; speech; policy paper; research report; or book. Please note that a media statement or press release or published news item in a newspaper, magazine, online or broadcast news item does not constitute a documentary source. As part of this assignment, you must present in class on your story, describing how you came up with the idea, how you reported it and why you decided to report in the style and format that you chose. Crucially, you must also reflect on how the readings and class shaped your understanding of how you reported this story.

STANDARDS FOR ALL STORIES

  1. Represent yourself accurately to sources. You must always let people know you are a reporter and that your story could potentially be published at the Northeastern Climate Change Review. You must make this clear to sources. All submissions for this class could potentially be published.
  2. Do not use unnamed or anonymous sources without prior approval. Occasionally you will encounter sources who do not want to give their names, but unless there is a serious risk to the source of going on the record, you should do your best to convince them to speak on the record. You must clear any use of an unnamed or anonymous source with me before you turn in the assignment.
  3. Use proper attribution. Only live interviews may be quoted directly. Anything off a press release, Web site, statement, another article must be attributed as such.
  4. Include a source appendix. As an appendix to each assignment, please provide:
  • A list of sources that you interviewed personally for the article, the interview method (by phone, in person, via email), the interview dates, and contact details for the source (phone and email);
  • Full references to any documentary sources cited;
  • Full references to the sources of secondary information (previous articles, quotations taken from previously published material, such as previous news reports, books, etc) used in the article;
  • A list of sources of background information not cited in the article. 

BOSTON GLOBE SUBSCRIPTION

                   There are no required texts to purchase for this course. All of the assigned readings are either freely available online, by way of the Northeastern University library; or by way of major news organizations. However, you are strongly advised for purposes of this course to purchase a digital monthly subscription to the Boston Globe. Your subscription will be needed to access several assigned readings; but more importantly to research your stories and articles.

ASSIGNED NEWS READING

As part of this course, you are expected to be a voracious reader and evaluator of climate change and energy news coverage. Specifically, on a daily and weekly basis, you are expected to read the following sources and journalists. Your familiarity with their coverage will be tested as part of your weekly quizzes:

CLASS SCHEDULE / READING

 Fri. Sept 9 – Class Overview and Introductions

NEW ENGLAND’S CLIMATE & ENERGY FUTURE

Tues. Sept 13 & Fri. Sept 16 – Our Climate Change Future

  • Climate Ready Boston (2016, Spring). Climate Projections Consensus. [Read Summary Document]
  • Abel, D. (2016, June 22). Climate Change Could Be Worse for Boston than Thought. Boston Globe. [HTML]
  • Gillis, J. (2016, Sept. 3). Flooding of Coast Caused by Climate Change Has Already Begun. The New York Times. [HTML]
  • Belluz, J. (2015, Nov. 30). Why climate change is increasingly seen as an urgent health issue. Vox.com [HTML]
  • Fernandez, I.J., C.V. Schmitt, S.D. Birkel, E. Stancioff, A.J. Pershing, J.T. Kelley, J.A. Runge, G.L. Jacobson, & P.A. Mayewski. 2015. Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update. Orono, ME: University of Maine. [PDF]
  • Abel, D. (2014, Sept. 21). In Maine, Scientists See Signs of Climate Change. Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Woodward, C. (2015, Oct. 25). MayDay: Gulf of Maine in Distress. Portland Press Herald. 6 part series [HTML]

Tues. Sept 20 — Our Energy Future

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2016, March 12). Clean energy industry goes mainstream amid investments. Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Gillis, J. (2016, Aug. 22). America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry. The New York Times. [HTML]
  • Turkel, T. (2016, July 10). Risky choices paying off for UMaine’s wind project. Portland Press Herald. [HTML]
  • Abel, D. (2016, May 16).  Carbon emissions rising at New England power plants. The Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Mooney, C. (2016, Aug. 11). Turns out wind and solar have a secret friend: Natural gas. Washington Post. [HTML]
  • (2016, July 29). We Must Preserve Nuclear Power Plants. Commonwealth Magazine. [HTML]
  • Mohl, B. (2016, July 31). Lawmakers give late-night OK to energy bill. Commonwealth Magazine [HTML]
  • Berwick, A. (2016, Aug. 3). Energy Bill a Solid Step Forward. Commonwealth Magazine. [HTML]
  • Gerwatowski, R. (2016, Aug. 3). The inconvenient truth of energy policy. Commonwealth Magazine. [HTML]
  • Turkel, T. (2016, July 30). Expect your electric bill to go up for the next few years. Portland Press Herald. [HTML]

Fri. Sept. 23 — NO CLASS 

WRITING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY

Tues. Sept. 27 — Reporting on Scientific Studies and Reports

  • Siegfried, T. (2005). “Reporting from science journals”. In Blum, D., Knudson, M., & Marantz Henig, R. (Eds). A Field Guide for Science Writers: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers (pp 11-17). New York: Oxford University Press. [Distributed to Class]
  • Journalist’s Resource (2011, Sept. 27)  Research chat: Andrew Revkin on covering and using scholarship. [HTML]
  • Journalist’s Resource (2016, June 1). Interviewing a source: Rules of the road; talking with officials and experts. [HTML]
  • Journalist’s Resource (2015, March 26). Eight questions to ask when interpreting academic studies: A primer for media. [HTML]
  • Borenstein, S. (2016, Sept. 7). NOAA: Global warming increased odds for Louisiana downpour. Associated Press. [HTML]
  • Kintisch, E. (2016, June 9). Is wacky weather helping melt Greenland? Science magazine [HTML]
  • Revkin, A. (2013, March 12). Can Wind, Water and Sunlight Power New York by 2050? Dot Earth blog, The New York Times [HTML]

 Friday, Sept. 30 — Trend Stories, News Analysis, and Commentary

  • Abel, D. (2016, Aug 27). Drought’s effects mount as dry weather continues. The Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Jackson, D.Z. (2016, July 22). San Diego sets an example for Mass. on renewable energy. The Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Jackson, D.Z. (2016, May 13). With Obama cuts, Mass. should rethink its reliance on natural gas. The Boston Globe [HTML]
  • Porter, E. (2016, July 19). How Renewable Energy Is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course. The New York Times [HTML]
  • Porter, E. (2016, April 19). Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change. The New York Times [HTML]
  • Plumer, B. (2014, April 22). Two degrees: The world set a simple goal for climate change. We’re likely to miss it. Vox.com [HTML]
  • Merchant, E.F. (2016, March 18). Is it Game Over for Coal? The New Republic. [HTML]

Friday, Oct. 7 —  Story Angles, Frames, and Visuals

  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement.Environment, 51 (2), 514-518. [HTML]
  • Journalist Resource (2016, Apr 18). Localizing the climate change mitigation story in your state and region: Some data tools to use. [HTML]
  • Climate Outreach (2016). Climate Visuals – 7 Key Visuals for Climate Change Communication. (Skim Report and Visuals Web Site) [HTML]
  • Journalist Resource (2016, Apr 1). Getting started with data visualization: A quick primer to jump-start the process. [HTML]

CLIMATE CHANGE AS A WICKED PROBLEM

Tues. Oct. 4 – What Kind of Problem is Climate Change?

  • Nisbet, M. C. (2014). Disruptive ideas: public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(6), 809-823. [HTML] [PDF]
  • McKibben, B. (2016, Aug. 15). A World at War: We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII. New Republic. [HTML]
  • Rayner, S. (2016, Aug. 31). A Climate Movement at War. The Breakthrough [HTML]

Tues. Oct. 18 & Fri. Oct. 21 — Climate Communication Challenges & Strategies

  • Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2016, March). Americans’ Attitudes About Science and Technology: The Social Context for Public Communication. AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. [PDF] [Read through climate change section]
  • Geiling, N. (2014, May 7). Why doesn’t anyone know how to talk about global warming? The Smithsonian magazine. [HTML]
  • Voosen, P. (2014, Nov 3). Seeking a Climate Change. Chronicle of Higher Education. [HTML]
  • Hoffman, A. (2012). Climate Science as Culture War. Stanford Social Innovation Review. [HTML]
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2016). Strategic Science Communication on Environmental Issues. AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. [PDF]

Tues. Oct 25 & Fri. Oct. 28 —Journalistic Challenges & Shifting Roles

  • Gibson, T. A., Craig, R. T., Harper, A. C., & Alpert, J. M. (2015). Covering global warming in dubious times: Environmental reporters in the new media ecosystem. Journalism. [Library Gateway]
  • Brainard, C. (2015). The changing ecology of news and news organizations: Implications for environmental news. In A. Hansen and R. Cox (Eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Environment and Communication (pp.168-185). London: Routledge. [Distributed to Class]
  • Revkin, A. 2007. “Climate change as news: Challenges in communicating environmental science”. In J.C. DiMento & P.M. Doughman (Eds.).Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren. Boston, MA: MIT Press, pp. 139-160. [PDF]
  • Fahy, D. & Nisbet, M.C. (2011). The Science Journalist Online: Shifting Roles and Emerging Practices. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, 12: 778-793. [HTML]
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2015). The Need for Knowledge-based Journalism in Politicized Science Debates. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658, 223-234. [PDF]

JOURNALISM, ADVOCACY, AND POLITICS

Tues. Nov. 1 & Fri. Nov. 4 — Journalism and the “Climate Change Denial” Movement

  • Dunlap, R. E., & McCright, A. M. (2011). Organized climate change denial. The Oxford handbook of climate change and society, 144-160. [Google Books]
  • Feldman, L. (2016). The Effects of Network and Cable TV News Viewing on Climate Change Opinion, Knowledge, and Behavior. ORE Climate Science. [Distributed to Class]
  • Mayer, J. (2016). Dark money: The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right. Doubleday, pgs 198-225 [Distributed to Class]
  • Jerving, S. et al (2015, Oct. 9). What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic. The Los Angeles Times [HTML]
  • Lewandowsky, S., Oreskes, N., Risbey, J. S., Newell, B. R., & Smithson, M. (2015). Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community. Global Environmental Change, 33, 1-13. [HTML]
  • Howarth, C. C., & Sharman, A. G. (2015). Labeling opinions in the climate debate: a critical review. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 6(2), 239-254. [Library Gateway]
  • Colford, P. (2015, Sept. 22). An addition to AP Stylebook entry on global warming. Associated Press. [HTML]

Tues. Nov. 15  The Election: What Happened and What’s Next?

  • Guillen, A. et al (2016, Nov. 12). Trump’s win upends climate fight. Politico. [HTML]
  • Revkin, A. (2016, Nov. 9). Prospects for the Climate, and Environmentalism, Under President Trump. New York Times [HTML]
  • Plumer B. (2016, Nov. 9). There’s no way around it: Donald Trump looks like a disaster for the planet. Vox.com [HTML]
  • Brooks, D. (2016, Nov. 11). The View from Trump Tower. The New York Times [HTML]
  • Greenwald, G. (2016, Nov. 9). Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit. The Intercept. [HTML]

Friday Nov. 19 — Sicence, Journalism and Advocacy in Turbulent Times

  • Donner, S. D. (2014). Finding your place on the science–advocacy continuum: an editorial essay. Climatic change, 124(1-2), 1-8. [PDF]
  • Stephenson, W. (2012, Nov. 5). A Convenient Excuse. The Boston Phoenix [HTML]
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2015, Oct. 23). MIT rejects fossil fuel divestment but is still a leader on climate change. The Conversation. [HTML]

 

CATCH UP, NEW TOPICS, DISCUSS ASSIGNMENTS

Tues. Nov. 29 – Tues. Dec. 6

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