In more than 20 articles over the past year, a team of New York Times reporters and editors have detailed many of the intersections between energy policy and the environment.
It’s a tough issue to cover since it doesn’t fit neatly any single traditional news beat. In fact, it spans many beats including science, the environment, business, regulatory agencies, and political news. Energy issues are also very technical, and frankly, while extremely important, can also be pretty boring. So for reporters who have to dramatize any issue to sustain reader attention, energy might be one of the toughest challenges.
Moreover, when it comes to quality reporting, specialization is essential. I imagine that the energy series forced many Times reporters and editors to dig into new areas of research, policy, and economics, developing new sources and knowledge that helped them contextualize issues and vet competing claims.
The hard work seems to have paid off in a big way. Once again the NY Times is setting the trend for other media organizations when it comes to innovative science reporting. No other media outlet really comes close. There’s a case to be made, considering the importance of energy policy and the challenges in covering it, that this might be some of the best journalism of 2006. Period.
And it gets even better. I’m hearing that the series is continuing and expanding in 2007, a rare thing for a newspaper, in a field where everything is yearlong and aimed at this prize or that prize. Apparently, from what I’m hearing, the focus on energy/environment is now the new normal for the NY Times. Here’s hoping that other media organizations like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times follow the Times lead.
You don’t want to miss out on reading the year long series, and there is even a chance to weigh in with your thoughts. In a very smart move to attract more readers and generate buzz for the series, the Times is sponsoring a special Web forum. Several of the project’s writers, including David Barboza, Felicity Barringer, Keith Bradsher, and Andrew C. Revkin, will respond to questions and comments posted through Thursday of this week So far, more than 400 comments have been posted from readers.
Finally, here’s an interesting and relevant aside.Click on this link for a google image search on “energy policy.” Notice that many of the top hits are political cartoons. It’s an indication that this is a tough story to dramatize. For one reason, the term itself “energy policy” has no easily defined meaning. And second, it’s maybe the toughest thing to put into visuals and pictures. Political cartoonists have it easy. They make up their own pictures, and their medium is tailor made to take any issue, no matter how complex, and just focus on the conflict and personalities involved. While opinion page pundits and some political reporters might have similar license, science reporters don’t.