Description of the video:
>> Hello everyone, welcome to the fall Environmental Resilience Speaker Series jointly presented by Indiana university's integrated program on the environment, and the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU. I'm Adam Fudickar, I'm a research fellow at the Environmental Resilience Institute. So we're pleased you're able to join us, we have a great lineup of speakers throughout the fall who will speak on a range of interesting topics in a format that will allow for interaction with the speakers and an opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue.
Both IPE and ERI are founded on the understanding, that interdisciplinary learning and research are essential to teach today's scholars, and to solve today's problems. The Natural and Social Sciences, the humanities and the arts are all critical and in play as we tackle climate change, and the environmental challenges that are affecting our health, our communities and our economy, here in Bloomington and around the world.
The IPE was founded in 2012 by the provost and the leadership of the O'Neill school, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Public Health. To bring together all of the environmental and sustainability scholarship across the various schools and departments on the Bloomington campus. IPE is made up of over 120 faculty and nearly 1,000 students studying the environment from all angles, the sciences, arts and humanities across 27 degree programs.
The ERI was founded in 2017 as part of the IE prepared for environmental grant challenge. Its mission is to enhance resilience to environmental change in Indiana and beyond by accurately predicting impacts and effectively partnering with communities to implement feasible, equitable, and research informed solutions. I'd like to start by thanking Sarah Mency from IPE and Mariana Cains from the O'Neill School, who organized the speaker series.
We have a wide variety of speakers who can share their experiences, research, and insights with us. In particular, our speakers this semester will focus on topics relevant to the issues of systemic racial inequality, environmental injustice and the need for a just transition to a future that is healthy and safe for all people.
So here's a list of just a few of the talks we have coming up this semester. If you go to our individual web pages you'll find a complete list, and you can sign up for our regular newsletters so that you can receive information about coming in advance and notices about our upcoming talks in the speaker series.
So you can also see the information for our social media for the ERI, here's the IPE webpage address and the IPE social media information, so we encourage you to sign up for our newsletters. Before we start, I'd like to ask everyone to mute yourself and if you come up with questions during the talk, please enter into the chat box.
At the end of the talk, we should have time for questions, so we'll address the speak with your questions at the end. And I'd now like to turn it over to Jim Shanahan, Dean of the Media School at IU and Associate Director of the ERI.
>> Thank you Adam, great to be here with all of you.
And thank you so much for coming to our talk and it's my pleasure to have the duty to introduce today's speaker who I know very well because she is an assistant professor here, in our own media school. I'm talking about Suzannah Comfort, Suzannah has her PhD from the University of North Carolina and her work focuses on a variety of issues in relation to environmental communication.
Quite a variety as a matter of fact, including such topics as how environmental issues are covered in news and journalism. How communication is done performed and how effective it is by environmental NGOs, and many related topics. Very worthwhile diving into her CV later if you get a chance.
Prior to coming to IU and also prior to her PhD work Suzannah has also worked in the environmental communication field, as the editorial director of a magazine called Oceana. And a lot of really great research on topics as varied as, working with the archives of environmental groups, to look for communication issues and patterns, there are.
Topics like who gets covered in international climate change coverage. She's looked at the environmental messaging of Pope Francis and has also developed a lot of expertise in the overall field of environmental communication, with a systematic review of our environmental comm literature. So I'm really pleased to have her as a colleague, I'm pretty sure she's a native Hoosier as well right Susannah?
Giving me the thumbs up there, and so, thank you so much for coming to hear from Susannah Comfort. So this is Susannah I'll turn it over to you.
>> All right thank you, Jim. Please let me know if there's any issues hearing me or anything cuz I said earlier, I'm still skeptical about zoom and making sure I have the technological expertise.
All right, so I'm gonna share my screen, so give me one second. All right, does that look good? Everyone can see it Jim, you can see it? Great, all right so topic of my talk today is Journalists as activists and activists as journalists. How the American environmental movement has used journalism as an advocacy tool.
So essentially here what I'm interested in is the relationship between journalism and advocacy. And basically, a fundamental question in my research is what is journalism, and who gets to count as a journalist? So, today I'm gonna dive into a historical project that I did, but I do think it's relevant to our current media landscape, and I'll try and make some of those connections, as I go through the talk.
My goal is to have time for questions and discussion at the end, so hopefully I'll be able to get through this quickly, I'll do my best, cuz I do want to have a conversation. So, when we think about news, we think about, big news organizations like I've got NBC News, NPR, Fox News, Wall Street Journal.
And these large mainstream news organizations all operate in pretty much a similar fashion. And I know what you're thinking, NPR and Fox News have nothing in common, how dare you suggest that they operate similarly? And it's true that in terms of their story selection, and how they present stories and the fact that NPR is a radio station and Fox News is a cable TV channel, there are differences between these news organizations.
However, when we look big picture about how all these mainstream news organizations operate, they have more in common, than they don't have in common. So for example, they are professional, they are produced by people who are paid to produce journalistic information. They are operating under the, a similar series of norms and practices in the sense that they go out with a mission of being factual, of presenting events as they happen of presenting a plurality of voices.
So, and an important characteristic they have in common, although NPR is a bit of an exception to this, but most of these mainstream news organizations are also commercial. Meaning that they operate under market conditions, they need to appeal to a wide audience their subscription or, Are advertising supported.
So all of these characteristics result in sort of constraints on how they operate. And even if you disagree with some of the coverage you see from different news organizations, they are going out with a mission to be factual, and to present multiple points of view. They may not execute in a way that's always satisfying, but they're all operating under the same basic assumptions about what is journalism.
However, when we sort of step back to think about other definitions of journalism, we can start to include other forms of doing journalism. So I've posted a couple of historic examples here. So the North Star to the upper left there, that is Frederick Douglass abolitionist newspaper. Below that I've got a socialist newspaper, and we've got here an example from the LGBT Press.
So in addition to these large mainstream kind of general interest news organizations that operate sort of in commercial market based orientation. We also have a whole universe of smaller niche or alternative presses that are presenting alternative points of view. So today, abolition would be a mainstream perspective, but it was not a mainstream perspective when Frederick Douglass was writing about it.
Others sort of outside of mainstream thought like socialist thought, or LGBT rights, etc. We're historically excluded from our national news organizations because national news are so big picture commercial, general interest news aims towards the middle in terms of American values. And when a group presents an alternative worldview or perspective, it's often excluded from those mainstream news organizations.
They just don't receive coverage or when they do, the coverage is extremely diminishing towards towards the movement or towards alternative points of view. So this type of journalism has been around for, in the history of the United States as long as we've been around. And it goes by a number of different names, alternative journalism, dissident, advocacy, or social movement journalism.
And it has some characteristics that are fundamentally different from our traditional mainstream journalism. One is that it's often non commercial, meaning it's produced by amateurs. It's funded in some alternative way, may get some advertising funding, may get some subscription funding, but they're often seeking other formats to fund these these publications.
They're written by people who's primary identity may not be journalist, it may be activist with journalist kind of as a secondary identity. And they're not as interested in presenting a plurality of points of view because their point of view is excluded from the mainstream. They don't really feel the need to quote unquote balance their point of view with a mainstream point of view that has historically suppressed their point of view.
So the orientation and the way these alternative presses function has been really different from the mainstream press. And there's been a lot of good scholarship on the African American press in American history, LGBT press, and these other social movement presses. So, this quote just kind of summarizes what these alternative presses are doing.
The capacity of a society to learn and respond to change conditions is less dependent on the generation of alternative worldviews, open communication of these realities into the general stock of common knowledge and the use of this knowledge in the development of social institutions. So there's two ways that niche perspectives and social movements can do these things, generate alternative worldview and one of those is through traditional journalism.
So these commercial mainstream news organizations are a route for the generation and adoption of alternative worldviews because they provide this public forum and they have a really broad reach. However, mainstream journalism has more often function as an agent of social control rather than social change. Meaning that if you were an abolitionist, you were unlikely to get your perspective represented in mainstream, well, what would have been to the mainstream commercial press back then.
In more recent years, you can even see today in the way that the news generally covers has been covering the protest/riots depending on who's covering it. That usually even today, news coverage of protests tends to diminish the political aspirations of the protesters, and instead focuses on the destruction and disruption to the social order.
So, journalists like to think of themselves as really progressive and pushing for social change, but usually the reality is not so progressive. So the basic questions that I am interested in and I'm going to attempt to answer or address a little bit today include why do social movements choose journalism as a tool for furthering their goals?
When traditional journalism hasn't really done a great job of representing social movements. What are the potential pitfalls for journalists operating in this uneasy space between journalism and advocacy? If you know anything about journalism, you know that one of the bedrock rules is that your traditional journalist is not supposed to be an advocate, they're supposed to be a dispassionate observer.
And the social movement or alternative press violates that assumption because participants in social movement journalism are also participants in the movement. So, there's a gatekeeping action that goes on where traditional journalists don't wanna acknowledge that social media movement journalism or advocacy journalism also performs journalistic functions. How to advocacy organizations balance the requirements of the journalism field with the requirements of the advocacy field when they're operating under two very different sets of norms and assumptions?
And to bring it to our current media climate, what does it mean for journalism and society as we see more and more advocacy, nonprofit, and/or partisan news organizations entering the field? So I'll kind of address it at the end. I'm not gonna answer all these questions, of course, because this is a lot, but these are the sort of the general guiding ideas.
So in my particular area of expertise, what I'm interested in is the environmental movement. As a social movement, the environmental movement has been an interesting one because it is one of the most mainstream of social movements which is a bit of an oxymoron. Because usually social movements exist, sort of opposite the mainstream because they want to change mainstream thinking.
But at the same time, the environmental movement has had to push for social change and has dealt with conflict throughout its entire existence. So I won't go into a long detailed history of American environmentalism in the interest of time. But let me just briefly sketch that there really wasn't much of an organized environmental movement until about the turn of the 20th century.
And that's when groups like the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club were founded, Wilderness Society it was a little bit later in the 1930s. But these groups operated primarily as niche special interest groups that were interested in narrow topics. Sierra Club was very focused on Western mountains, Yosemite area, California specifically and preserving those areas.
Audubon was very specifically focused on bird conservation. So it wasn't until the 1960s that we saw kind of a shift from a niche special interest group that had small memberships in the low thousands, to a mass social movement. And the difference between being a niche interest group and mass social movement is the ability to capture the attention of a wide swath of Americans, average everyday Americans rather than people who only care about mountains or birds.
And that's what happened in the 1960s along with that whole protest generation, civil rights movements, women's rights and so on. The environmental movement followed up on those other movements and captured a really broad coalition of interest. So we saw a lot of movement in the environmental movement interest in 1960s into the 70s, and it was quite bipartisan, quite widely supported.
It wasn't until the 80s that it started to become more partisan and now we see more of a split between conservatives and liberals on environmentalism. However, it did enjoy quite a long period of broad bipartisan support in the middle of the 20th century. So, one of my interest is in how these organizations, many of which have now been around for over 100 years or close to it, use journalism and media as an advocacy tool.
Meaning that when they were going out saying look, we want to get better policy for bird protection, we want to set aside more acreage for wilderness protection. They weren't just doing, behind the scenes lobbying, although they were doing that, they were also taking these claims to the public sphere.
And we know one of the basic assumptions of alternative media and social movements media is that you have to take your perspective just from the niche, the interest group of people who are already engaged and bring it to the broader public sphere. And that's one leverage one lever of social change.
So what these organizations did is they produce their own media. And one reason why they produce their own media is as I referred to earlier, the national news media or sort of typical state level media as well, newspapers, they didn't cover this very much. Environmental journalism as a beat, meaning organizational sort of section or resource, a place where news organizations would spend resources.
Environmental journalism as we know it now really didn't exist until the late 1960s, so well after the public had gotten really engaged with environmentalism. So you couldn't really take these claims just to the press because the press was not very interested, it was not viewed as news, someone has to make it news.
So what these organizations did instead was produce their own news, they performed a journalistic function, and they produced these membership magazines. I have some examples up here, Audubon and Sierra magazines are still existing today and have circulations of over half a million each. Wilderness no longer existed it folded in, I think the early 2000s, but it did exist from the 1930s until then.
And all of these went from being very small membership oriented magazines that had circulation of a few thousand to, more general interest going beyond just the niche group that already cared about their issues trying to take it to a broader public. And so even today, this is from Ottawa magazine from two years ago, they're using the language of journalism to convey their legitimacy.
So this is an editorial by the then editor and chief of Ottawa magazine. He's drawing a really interesting distinction here, he says odd as this may sound, Audobon italics is not Audobon, not in italics. The magazine is function as an independent journalistic entity, published by the National Audubon Society and covering topics of interest to the organization members.
For the entirety of its hundred plus years and counting, it's not a house organ, its value derived entirely from its integrity. You can trust what you read here is factually accurate and fair, blah, blah, blah. So you see that he's making a claim that look, we're doing journalism, this is our line in the sand, don't tell us that we're not, we're really doing this.
So one thing I went and I looked at, in the archival research that I did was I went and I wanted to understand what these organizations were thinking. When they redevelop these magazines from being quite niche oriented, to general interests, conservation, or environmental publications that would push forward the environmental cause.
And especially in the case of Audubon, it became a nationally awarded magazine at one it was the first advocacy produced publication to win a national magazine award for reporting excellence in the 1970s. So it was kind of the the flagbearer for this genre of publication. So what did they do for this project?
Actually, let me go back to this is a more pleasant slide. I went to the organizational archives of each of these organizations, Sierra Club archives are located at the University of California in Berkeley. Audubon organizational archives are located at New York Public Library, and Wilderness societies or archives are at the Denver Public Library.
So I last year, with a little bit of funding from IU as well, I was able to go to these archives and look into what were the conversations inside the organizations about adopting journalism to try to further their social movement goals. So actually, the first organization to broach this idea within the environmental realm that I could find, was the wilderness society, and I apologize for the quality of this slide, that's gonna be a theme.
But this is a letter from Howard Zahniser, who was a founder of the Wilderness Society, to the president of the Wilderness Society, Harvey Broome in the 1950s. And he says a matter that's been in my mind is the need for more forceful interpretive journalism in our field of conservation.
For a periodical that would be independent of inhibitions arising from off the record cooperation and confidences with officials, and other organizations that would come up promptly and currently with news and editorial interpretation. And then skip to the next paragraph, if you look to our recent winter magazine, you will see something like an illustration of what I mean.
With a magazine of color, regularity and frequency of appearance maybe by monthly instead of quarterly. And the appeals of editorial time and attention can give it I believe we could achieve a strong influence for wilderness preservation. So he's saying that, journalism is a tool to get us to our goal, which in the Wilderness society's case is increased wilderness preservation.
And one interesting thing that you see in this field, is the influence of a lot of former journalists. Howard Zahniser was a former journalist a newspaperman before he became involved with environmental advocacy. And he actually went on to become the main architect of the the Wilderness Act in the 1960s, which was a major piece of legislation.
But he wasn't alone, many of these organizations had former journalists as directors or presidents, or other high level positions in these organizations. So you see they're bringing that logic from the journalism field into the advocacy field and thinking, how can I use this tool to further our goals?
So Howard Zahniser was on the forefront, but it wasn't the Wilderness Society that really set the stage for journalism from environmental advocacy organizations. It was actually the Audubon Society, they really took the lead. So here's an example of an issue of Audubon Magazine from 1960. You can see on the left, we've got some pictures from their annual black tie gala.
Everyone looks quite grim, but I think they're having a good time. But you see, there's the photos, it's very promotional. It's not especially interesting if you're not a member of this particular group wanting to see your picture in the magazine. The other genre of article you would see in Audubon in the early 60s and before was ornithological essays about bird species.
So here's one about the purple capped fairy hummingbird. The author of this piece, Alexander Scutchess, an ornithologist. So this was the sort of pre-journalistic Audubon Magazine. Promotional in nature, highly niche, not especially compelling from an art perspective, or a narrative perspective. So they realized this was a missed opportunity here.
And they actually engaged a consultant firm, Cresap McCormick and Paget in New York, Ottawa's also based in New York, to do analysis and come up with recommendations for the magazine's redevelopment. And they came up with these four ideas. Immediate action should be taken to strengthen editorial impact. It should be made more attractive.
We should continue to invest in editorial quality as we go up in circulation. And we should reduce the cost of producing the magazine. So classic, you should do more with less kind of attitude. But what ended up happening is Audubon was successful beyond its wildest imagination. This consulting firm estimated that their circulation could go from about 30,000 to 50,000.
They actually went up to more 350,000 within five to seven years, so it was really a successful redesign. So what did they do? Almost immediately, this issue is 19, I wanna say 66, they hired a new editor in 1966, early 66, named Les a former newspaper man from Michigan.
And he decided this was no longer a magazine about birds, this was a magazine about the environmental movements and the ongoing destruction of the American environment. So the type of journalism you'd see in the magazine in those years was articles like this one, that used very dramatic language.
An offense against America, a mountain is ravaged, a valley shattered. So we've traveled a long way from those pictures of the men and women in black tie at the gala. Now we're going into in-depth and lengthy, I mean, these articles were just thousands and thousands of words long.
Lengthy in-depth investigations into broad environmental issues that were not limited to birds. So to give another example, a couple other examples from those years, the 1970 on the right there. On the left we have an article about pollution, which was a major concern in the 1960s and 70s.
Of course, it still is today. And on the right people pollution. Perhaps a term we might not use today. This article is written by Paul Ehrlich. If you don't know that name, he was a biologist who wrote a famous book in the late 1960s called The Population Bomb.
There was a very prominent theory about environmentalism at a time that was basically Malthusian, saying that we were producing more and more people and the earth's resources couldn't keep up. And Ehrlich was one of the primary proponents of this perspective. So you see here we're doing journalistic work but also drawing on some non-journalists to produce it, such as Paul Ehrlich being a scientist.
But in using narrative, using drama, using a lot of the same concepts that are in sort of traditional mainstream journalism. And I give this example as well, this is from the 1971. So at this point the magazine's circulation was well over, I think 3 or 400,000. A far cry from where it had been ten years earlier.
And here we have an example of a bird-related article. But if you read the article, it's about the moral dilemma facing falconers. Within the bird community, there was, I suppose there probably still is, a variety of perspectives about the morality of owning falcons and training them in falconry.
So this article gives those multiple perspectives. So it's, again, drawing on this traditional journalistic practices of presenting a plurality of points of view. Where in the past, Audubon might have only published the anti-falconry point of view, now they're presenting both points of view. So a balanced vision of this type of issue.
So we're, again, drawing on these traditional journalistic norms and practices. And George Laycock is a professional writer. Previously, the magazine, the only authors in it were amateurs. They were unpaid, so they submitted their own essays, essentially. So we've got to move towards professionalism, a move towards more actual journalists contributing to the magazine.
And the actual work they're producing resembles mainstream journalism. And at this time in the 1960s and 70s, it was a real heyday of narrative long form journalism. And there was a broader conversation ongoing about, how should journalism be produced, and is it possible to be a dispassionate observer?
At that same time we saw the rise of what was then called new journalism, which you may be familiar with when you think of Joan Didion's work. And there are numerous, what's his name, I'm gonna blank on all the people whose names I've read. Hunter Thompson's work, of course.
Where the writer embeds himself or herself in this issue and becomes an actor, so to speak. Not an actor like they're making it up, but an agent within the story, that they're acknowledging their presence within the story. So there is this broader questioning of, what does it mean to be a journalist?
And I think it kind of cracked open the possibility that an advocacy press like Audubon Magazine could be one of those journalistic outlets, be considered journalism, if we're questioning, what are the fundamentals of journalism at this time? So did it work for Audubon Magazine? It absolutely did from a circulation point of view.
They went from, let's see, 1965, less than 40,000 in circulation to over 300,000. And that was just within about one decade of redeveloping the magazine. So they were able to sell ads, which raised a whole other bevy of questions because they sold ads to timber and oil companies, which raised some controversy within the organization.
And really broadened the reach. And helped the claims of the environmental movement reach a more mainstream audience. What ended up happening was the magazine was so popular, it was actually read by both environmentalists and groups you might consider non-environmentalists. Because you might have it at the dentist's office, for example.
So if they ran an article about oil companies They would often follow it up with a letter to the editor from the oil company, disputing claims made in the article. And in that way, it served as a forum between multiple points of view. So what did it mean from an internal point of view?
So you have an advocacy organization, its goal is to increase bird protections. It doesn't identify fundamentally as a journalistic organization. So here is the example of a memo from the president of Audubon Society, Carl Buchheister. I can't remember the exact year, this was about 1966, I believe. And he's referring to an article that was about to get published.
And he says, I disapprove 100% of our publishing this article or even aiding in having it published elsewhere. It's no good, the article could expose us to libel suits. This is the kinda article that involves policy decision of the board level. So here he's saying, you don't have full autonomy, editor Les Line, to do whatever you want.
We have to be cautious, we can't just publish anything, because we could get in trouble. Here's another example where an internal conversation revealed some of the dynamics at play here. So this is a memo from the vice president of science, he was one of the science directors for the Audubon Society, to the editor of Audubon Magazine.
And he offers, he says, I offered to personally review, if time permits, articles 1 and 2, and volunteer Gene's services, if time and logistics permit, to review 3 for general scientific content and accuracy. So he's just saying, let us take a quick look, a little fact check on your work.
And this was Les's response, you don't have to read the whole thing, but it basically says no thank you. And when we want your services, you will be asked, and don't hold your breath. So here he says, we will not routinely submit our articles for review by you and your staff.
And that it is our historic procedure to submit galley proofs of all articles to the Society president, as publisher of Audubon. Beyond that, the responsibility for the content of Audubon lies with the editors and authors. So from the editor's perspective, Les Line, he's saying, look, we're journalists, we take responsibility for our material.
And we are not going to allow you or our co-colleagues here at Audubon Society to get involved. We make the decisions, we're operating as a journalistic entity. And so Les Line and these other editors would often draw this line in the sand. But the reality was actually a bit more nuanced in terms of whether non-editors within the organization could influence the content of these magazines.
And one reason why this was an issue was because readers could not distinguish between Audubon in italics and Audubon Society, which I think is reasonable. So this is from a letter to the editor. No matter how you may say that the reader of Audubon Magazine should know that the Society is not endorsing every view expressed in the articles.
Nevertheless, the readers of that magazine are gonna feel that it's being used as a forum for the expression of views of the writers. And they're gonna translate that into a feeling that we endorse those views. Actually, I believe this is not a letter to the editor. This is from one of the board members of Audubon Society.
So he's saying, look, how can we expect our readers and audience to read articles and say, that's not the Audubon Society view, when it's in Audubon Magazine, which is a fairly reasonable question. Here's a memo from the chief scientist at Audubon Society, who had a long-running campaign against Les Line and the magazine.
Everywhere I go in the nation, Texas, Florida, California, I run into objections about the Society's stance that's represented by Audubon and editor Line. If you have been at all inclined to view my feud with Les as a personal problem, I urge you to inquire more carefully because I think the Society has a serious problem on its hands.
So here, again, he's saying that look, people think the organization is the magazine. And this presents a real problem for us when we don't endorse all the views in the magazine but it says Audubon on it. So this conversation, I had found a million examples of it not just within the Audubon Society but also the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society records.
That doing quasi-journalistic or journalism work within the confines of this type of organization is really fraught because of these confusions about what editorial independence means, if you can have that. And how other people are going to perceive you, the organization, or the journalistic entity as social movement actors, as journalists, etc.
So to summarize those points, the problems with doing journalism within the boundaries of a non-journalistic entity with its own social change goals. Editorial independence will always be negotiated. So I actually gave a version of this talk to the National Audubon Society in January in New York. And after I concluded the talk, and I went into a bunch more examples of conflicts between the editorial team and the board of directors and other staffers at the Society.
And the first thing someone said was you could swap out all the years for 2020 and it would be the same. So even today these conversations are the same, like what does it mean to produce editorial content? How can we reflect the organization but also confer the legitimacy of independence, of factuality, etc.?
Another thing that will always happen is that traditional journalists will continue to seek to exclude advocacy presses from the, quote, unquote, club. So to give an example, the Society for Environmental Journalists is the main trade organization that represents environmental journalism in the US. And they have membership rules where if you receive most of your income from, quote, unquote, advocacy press, you can't be a full member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Which is really challenging for freelance journalists, which most environmental journalists are, because there aren't that many full-time environmental journalism positions. Freelance journalists, their income varies year to year, their clients and outlets that they publish in vary year to year. And so they're being told, well, you don't count as a full journalist if you are writing for Sierra, if you're writing for Audubon, etc.
So there's a gatekeeping action going on that I think is ultimately a bit fruitless and undermining to the Society of Environmental Journalists, but it's happening. And then lastly, the other thing I want to touch on is that even in a social media reality, so the examples I just gave are from the 60s and 70s.
You think, the media landscape has changed so much now. I would say, yes, but, yes. But traditional journalism in the form of these big mainstream news outlets still continue to be an important pathway to legitimacy, scope enlargement, and mobilization. By which I mean that there are examples of social movements that we can name just even in the last few years.
Where social media was the primary format where people communicated and created an imagined community. And that has kind of replaced, in many ways, what these magazines did 30, 40-plus years ago. Cuz they also served to create a forum and an imagined community of supporters of people who are geographically dispersed.
So now we have social media performing that role. However, when the traditional large news organizations notice it and if they do choose to cover it, it does confer. I would argue, it still confers legitimacy to the social movement by saying, this is a big enough deal that now it's on NBC Nightly News.
And it also allows activists to Enlarge the scope of their claims and their issues and increase mobilization, you can mobilize through social media. Absolutely. But I think that boost you get from especially television news, which is still such an important purveyor of information today, that there's still going to be this relationship between traditional news and advocacy presses even if the advocacy Media is in the form of digital social media.
All right, so I wanna end with just touching on the current landscape for environmental journalism. So, I think there is a, as I stated before, environmental journalism as we know it today really didn't exist until the 1960s. News organizations didn't start applying resources to it until the late 1960s.
And since then, the resources that news organizations give to environment journalism has varied a lot. It goes up for a little while. It goes down for a little while. And then, it kind of just cycles through. But I do think that we are seeing more awareness environmental issues are pervasive.
They're kind of like the master problem that underlies a lot of other problems in our society. This is the front page the New York Times from just a couple or last week, talking about what's going on in California. And calling them climate events, like this is related to climate change.
And it's having a major impact on our society today. Beyond that, what I'm seeing is an explosion in nonprofits, environmental journalism. So, one I would recommend is inside climate news. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning news organization that has a lot of what you might call traditional journalists working for it.
It's not attached to any advocacy organization. It's funded by Pew and a variety of other sources. So, they can attempt to, avoid those pitfalls of working from an advocacy perspective. There's also right here at IU, tlhe Indiana Environmental Reporter, which is fulfilling a really important news needs since there's very few dedicated environmental journalists in the state of Indiana.
Now, the IER is funded by IU and the media school. They do make a, try to make a distinction that they don't work for the media school, they don't work for IU, so they should be independent. But with these organizations, any of them inside climate news or IER, the question of how ownership might influence their news production is always an open one.
And you really can't know till you start looking at what kind of news they produce. And lastly, I wanna touch on Heated which is a climate newsletter, email newsletter. Newsletters are having a moment. I'm also has a podcast. And this is a weekly newsletter produced by Emily Atkinson, who is a journalist, and it's quite good.
If you are interested in viral news, I'd recommend signing up for it. And she posted this on twitter not too long ago. And I think it's really relevant to our discussion about environmental journalism in general. And she says, as a journalist, I've often been being partisan for supporting issues like equal rights and climate justice.
But I believe that making your values known makes you more trustworthy, not less. I believe such lack of transparency is why many Americans don't trust reporters. So, what she's getting at here is, it is a trend in journalism more broadly away from the dispassionate observer, and toward the idea that we can't avoid bias.
We can only acknowledge it and be transparent about it. So, we're seeing transparency as a news norm ascendant. And environmental journalists in particular have been tarnished with the brush of lack of objectivity for the last 50 plus years. I interviewed some environment journalists for another project a couple years ago, and I asked them about this.
I said, what do you do when people say that you're biased, cuz you're environmental journalist, and you must be anti business, for example? And one of them, well, he got so angry, journalists can be really, really righteous. And he said, it's stupid to say that cuz I'm an environmental journalist.
I must be anti business. You don't tell, don't say health reporter is like, Pro heart attack or, Anti healthy vegetables or healthy lifestyle. And I thought that was a really good analogy, but for some reason, environmental journals in particular, have been having searched onto the side within the broader journalist field, is being somehow compromised or not objective.
And what Emily Atkin is expressing here is that it's not about pretending to be totally dispassionate and unbiased, and without any kind of opinion or perspective, it's about transparency. And I think that is a broader trend within journalism, more widely. So with that, I think I'm gonna end it, because I would like to have a conversation for a few minutes before we end.
So, thank you so much for your time. And perhaps, we can talk for a little bit how.
>> Thank you Susanna. Susanna, can you hear me okay?.
>> Okay, thank you so much. So, let me first remind folks that if you have questions, you can submit those to the chat, and I will ask them, up Suzanna.
And so, just type away and then those will get in there really quickly. So, while I'm waiting for those, let me start with, you give a sense of what you perceive the overall frequency of coverage of environmental issues to be in all the forms of journalism that you mentioned.
When we compare it to all the other issues that compete for our attention.
>> I would say on the whole, it's very low news priority. I think you see spikes in attention when there's a major sort of driving events. If there's a hurricane, for example, that as historic in some wayz because it's stronger, bigger storm surge, etc.
Then you might see a spike in sort of climate change related reporting. But usually, it fades off. I'd say it's not a stable beat at most news organizations. Usually, it's the kind of beat where a journalist might pick up because they especially want to do it, and are interested.
But there's very little institutional resources for environmental journalism. We just saw in the last few years, the New York Times and CNN both dismantled their climate desks that they had. They had both built a pod of 5 to 10 reporters who worked specifically on the climate beat, and then, after a few years, got rid of it.
So, you saw there's kind of a movement towards, we're gonna really, dedicate resources to this. And then, a fading away of those resources. And I've seen that pattern when I've looked at it from a historic perspective. It's been pretty much that pattern since the 1960s. There's a big wave.
There's from 1968 editor and publisher reported, I think two environmental journalists in the United States that labeled themselves as environmental journalists. By 1970 there are over 100, but Newspapers. But today, I have a number of newspapers that have an environmental journalists are very few. I think Indianapolis Star only has them because they're grants supported.
So, people are looking for alternative routes to support environmental journalism, because for whatever reason, there's less of an appetite for maybe, because people perceive it as a bummer. Or it's not as, it just doesn't attract as much attention as sports coverage or political scandal coverage. But I think it is.
In the United States as a whole, it goes like this. It's never really very stable.
>> So now, the questions are pouring. And let me just thank you very briefly for mentioning Indiana environmental reporter and with the reporters at the star. And also, the reporter who's at it.
In the public media that's funded by us, those are three out of really the only five reporters in the whole state of Indiana, that are covering environmental issues on a statewide, levels. So that makes your point pretty well. So let me just start lining up these questions now that are coming in from somebody really interested in birds.
What happened to the Audubon editor who was controversial.
>> He was editor for 30 years, and then he was fired in 1991.
>> So basically what happened was, there was a change in leadership at the top of the Audubon Society. And while Audubon magazine was very quote unquote successful in terms of attaining cultural capital, for the organization and spreading its message, it also became extremely bloated and very expensive.
And I think another trend that happened as we saw in the 60s and 70s arises in specialized magazines, there's a downfall of the general interest magazines like Life and Look and Saturday Evening Post. And then the rise of special interest magazines like Sports Illustrated, Playboy, etc. And Audubon was in that trend, but that trend, as all trends do, there's a big rise in special interest magazines and it kind of dipped off.
So the timing for less is not great. And I think after 30 years at the helm, he refused to change his ways, so he was fired in 1981. And I actually had a great quote from him, that I showed to the National Audubon Society because all their employees are so young no one remembers any of this.
And it was when he was fired, he talked about how he was gonna become this PC namby pamby not afraid of controversy publication, so good luck, suckers. That was basically his goodbye message.
>> I can imagine it was great fun being able to go through all these archives and looking at that stuff.
Another question too, what degree has research shown, if you're aware that advocacy journalism organisations have had an effect on, shaping mainstream media agendas.
>> I think that my understanding of that literature is that it has shown to have an effect. But what has happened was, particularly with the rise of digital media, allowing pretty much anyone to be a publisher.
So producing a magazine like Audubon is quite expensive and resource intensive, but with the rise of digital media around the turn of the 20th century, that changed the landscape. If you all remember, political blogs were a really big deal. And they were a alternative venue for different political perspectives that weren't really necessarily being represented in the big mainstream news organizations.
And from my observation, and I think other scholars have seen this as well. What's happened is the institutionalizing of those blogs. So they've been purchased by the big mainstream news organisations. So they still function as kind of a alternative voice, but they don't operate totally independent of the mainstream anymore.
It's kind of the mainstream is just sort of absorbed and claimed, the alternative voices. And now some scholars argue that there really is no meaningful difference between alternative and mainstream media. Because of the increased partisanship of mainstream media and because of the increased technological capacity for anyone to be a mainstream media producer.
It used to be that, it was more like citizen journalists just posted on social media but now citizen journalists are sharing with the New York Times. So like when there was the big hurricane that came through the Caribbean, a couple years ago, where there are no journalists there.
Because we'd have hardly any foreign bureaus anymore. All the photos were from Facebook, that citizens had posted that were now published in the New York Times. So some have argued and I think there's some legitimacy to this that, that distinction between alternative and mainstream is no longer meaningful.
>> Next question, you showed a picture earlier of the folks at the black tie ball. I agree looking rather grim and this question is about, do you have an opinion on the rejection that we hear nowadays of early environmental organizations as examples of, white privilege?
>> Yeah, so there is a the history of the environmental movement is very white.
There's three main threads in American Environmental history. One is the conservation movement which was focused on conservation natural resources like timber, water and etc. And now it's kind of a technocratic scientific approach to environmental use. There's the preservation movement, which was about preserving wild spaces, national parks, etc.
And then there was urban environmental reform, which was you think about early 20th century Sinclair, Lewis the Jungle, we're dealing with the environmental problems of the city. Those three strands, operated quite separately, especially the urban environmentalists were sort of excluded from, the conservation and preservation arms of the movement.
And it wasn't really till the 1960s that these three arms came together and had more of an ecosystem approach that acknowledged environmental issues, came from the city as well from rural or wilderness areas. So the violent movement right now is grappling with that, it's well documented that John Muir was a racist.
He's the founder of the Sierra Club, the history of our national parks has a history of relocation of indigenous people. Audubon, John James Audubon, who's not the founder of the Audubon Society, but he was named for them, also had some problematic features to his life. And Audubon Society itself was the most lily white and elite of all of the American environmental organizations.
So they're all grappling with that today. I think there's a much greater understanding of the concept of environmental justice, which has been around now for decades. But I think it's only just recently started to, become adopted into the mainstream environmental thinking. So they're still grappling with these histories.
I was just contacted by, Audubon actually last week. They're asking me if in the archives I'd found any more racist stuff, cuz they want to get ahead of it. Truly like my research didn't show that because I wasn't looking early enough, I was looking at the 60s and 70s.
And frankly, they just didn't see race as one of the mediating factors. So they never discussed it, it was just invisible to them.
>> Yeah. Next question is would you say a word about advocacy journalists willingness or not, to specifically engage in articles or editorials on political candidates.
Particularly with those organizations that consider themselves to be nonpartisan?
>> So this means an advocacy journalist writing a column, endorsing a political candidate?
>> Yeah, or perhaps not even just specifically endorsing but, anything on political candidates.
>> I don't write specifically on political communication and initiatives, but I do think that If you're an advocacy journalist, you're already comfortable, with expressing opinion.
In fact, Emily Akon the woman who writes the heated newsletter, she calls herself an opinion journalist. So she's giving herself a name that allows her to acknowledge that her perspective is injected into everything that she writes. And I think that kinda labeling might be actually really helpful for audiences to understand what they're actually looking at.
So from my perspective I don't see any issue with opinion or advocacy journalists getting engaged with electoral politics, as long as it's transparent.
>> Yeah, just some more questions coming in. Here's one. From a listener who's saying, I love to use the archives, really interesting research. I'm curious about the evolution of environmental journalism genres.
So how would you characterize, for instance, the give and take between nature writing and science writing in the early history of American Environmental Journalism?
>> Great question, so, of course, we have a long tradition of nature writing that goes back, longer than environmental journalism existed. I think that when you look at these early advocacy groups publications.
A lot of what they published was more in the genre of nature writing, than what you might consider journalism oriented. Nature writing, I mean, a more personal narrative and personal perspective than sort of drawing on external sources. I think you don't see the trend and the switch towards science journalism until the 1960s, 50s, 60s.
And I think that's because science journalism at that point was also ascending, and people were interested in that. I think nature writing itself has been excluded from news organizations. It's usually viewed as a separate genre of writing, but I did see examples of it in the advocacy publications for sure.
In fact, I'd say that was the dominant genre, until they started switching to the more journalistic mode of the 1960s.
>> A lot of the early writing in magazine form, and you looked a lot of magazine format was done in magazines that were oriented at people. Who specifically liked hunting, fishing, that type of sportsmen activity, if you will.
Did you look at that at all in relation to these other environment, or cuz, some of those had also pretty large circulations?
>> Yeah, so there's a genre of sort of sporting magazines, for us in Field and Stream. I think American Sportsmen is the title of another one, where you did actually see a lot of early conservation and sport.
Where they start to realize that, you can't just go shoot all of the buffalo. Eventually, there will be zero buffalo or zero elk, etc. So there are great examples of early conservation and sport in those magazines. And in fact some of their editors, George Grinnell, was the editor of Forest and Stream.
And he went on to become an early member, or founder of the Audubon Society. So you see, again, there's connections between editorial roles and advocacy roles. And I don't think that's exclusive to environmentalism, that's just my area of expertise. But I think it's not a coincidence that people who recognize the public sphere's the space where power is decided.
Are people who are already working in that kind of space, and they can see the reverse at work, when we get that issue out. And they can influence policy or social change.
>> Well, Susanna, we've run out of time, well, I do have some other great questions here for you.
So I will save those in the chat and make sure you get those, and so thank you so much. That was a really fascinating talk, of course I knew your work, but this is my first chance to hear how deeply you dived into the archives, that was really cool.
So thanks so much for being on.
>> Thank you, and I appreciate everyone attending.
>> Yeah, and I wanna thank Adam for his role here, Adam surely you're great, thanks. Thanks to IPE and ERI for sponsoring this, so come back and see us all again very soon, bye, everyone.