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As "Washington Flyer" goes, so goes NBC News

Andrew Freedman @ 10:30 AM

The latest issue of Washington Flyer magazine, which is available to (but probably not read by) travelers passing through Washington's major airports, is a "green issue." This means that every publication has now published a green issue or devoted its cover to climate change, according this columnist's count, including Elle, Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine and Vanity Fair.

In fact, climate change coverage has become so intense and ubiquitous in popular culture that it is radiating back into the news division of at least one major broadcast network.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Nice Day StampToday: Mostly sunny, very warm. Highs 80-84.
Tonight: Clear and cool. Lows 44-49 (suburbs-city)
Tomorrow: Partly to mostly sunny, warm. Highs 80-85.

A detailed week ahead forecast will appear tomorrow.

Recently NBC News announced that it has created the new post of chief environmental affairs reporter, with the title going to former chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson. The reasoning behind this ridiculously overdue move is what is most interesting, because it raises the possibility that pop culture coverage of the environment is really where effective action and discourse on climate change will be most firmly rooted.

If this is true, the enviro organizations can stop sending out press releases to the news departments of their local papers, and start concentrating on the style reporters.

According to an article in industry publication Broadcasting and Cable, NBC created the new beat because of how much attention the environment has been getting elsewhere.

"It's the cover story on this month's Vanity Fair," Thompson told the B+C reporter.

Shouldn't NBC News be scooping Vanity Fair (and Washington Flyer for that matter), rather than chasing after it? NBC's reasoning, according to the story, appears to be that because the entertainment world has gotten everyone to talk about the environment, maybe developing some dedicated reporting expertise in this area would be, like, you know, a good thing.

Instead, NBC has contributed to the chronic inattention that climate change and other environmental issues have suffered from in television news.

"In absolute terms, global warming is enjoying record amounts of news attention, yet it still doesn't register as prominent on the overall news agenda," wrote American University communications scholar Matthew Nisbet on his blog recently.

There's a deeper point besides knocking NBC. Relying on the fickle whims of trendy pop culture media outlets (environmentalism is the new "it" thing!) carries the risk that climate change coverage will peter out the same way as Sanjaya's singing career is destined to.

In other words, it may not be a sustainable way of generating coverage about sustainability, especially given the long-term and slow (for TV) rate of climate change. How many times can a magazine put Al Gore on its cover, or Leonardo DiCaprio?

Soon they'll have to make way for the next fad. Such is the law of the pop culture universe.

What's needed is continued coverage of the sort that thus far only traditional outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio have been able to provide. Pop culture outlets may be able to reach many more people than the WashPo readership, but at least the Post sticks with the story. The key test will be to ensure that reporters like NBC's Thompson consistently get stories on the air, and that her beat does not quietly go the way of melting Arctic ice as soon as Washington Flyer stops devoting its magazine covers to it.

The "Seriously?" Award of the Week

Recently a letter to the editor came to my attention (thanks J.S.) that warrants additional publicity. According to Connie M. Meskimen of appropriately named Hot Springs, Arkansas, the recent extension of daylight savings time is contributing to global warming. She lays out her cogent argument in a stunningly convincing piece entitled "Daylight Exacerbates Warning" (their typo, not mine). Hooray for science!

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