New Yorker writer bashes blogs

The effects of climate change are upon us, a New Yorker magazine staffer told a crowd in Branford College Wednesday, and good journalism — which she saidis dangerously in decline — is necessary to inform the public.

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert, who authored an award-winning book on global warming in 2006, addressed the decline of print media and the spectre of climate change at a Branford College Master’s Tea. Print media has been “hemorrhaging” readers and has seen a rapid decline in advertising revenues that, Kolbert said, is related to the advent of blogs and other web-based news sources. Before an audience of about 35, Kolbert said journalism’s decline is all the more significant given the importance of educating the public on crucial issues.

“The issue of climate change is a very good example of why we need good journalism,” Kolbert said.

A major concern regarding print media, Kolbert said, is that media outlets’ shrinking budgets will prevent publications from allowing reporters to travel in order to do investigative work.

Kolbert called the content found on blogs “recycled information.” Anyone can watch the President’s feed and blog about it, Kolbert said. The difficult lies in giving the audience something unique so that articles do not become “echoing chambers.”

Kolbert’s 2006 book “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” investigated the devastating effects of climate change in Shishmaref, Alaska. Kolbert found that permafrost underneath Shishmaref was thawing as global temperatures rose, causing shorelines to recede. Meanwhile, melting sea ice that had served as a barrier to storm surge was making the town more susceptible to floods. The situation deteriorated to a point that, in 2002, the town formed a relocation plan, Kolbert said.

Examples such as Shishmaref, she said, show that climate change is a reality and that the environment cannot withstand the pressures brought by modern lifestyles.

“We’ve been living like outrageous pigs in this country for a long time,” Kolbert said.

Kolbert suggested pricing carbon emissions to reduce environmental degradation, noting that such a program was part of President Barack Obama’s campaign platform.

“He has to somehow start making people pay for carbon emissions,” said Kolbert. “And that will make the other forms of energy more competitive.”

Kolbert’s stance on the effects of climate change and the decline of journalism resonated with at three students who attended the tea.

“The seeming inevitability of our current path is certainly cause for concern and one of the great problems for our generation,” Thomas Smyth ’12 said.

Catherine Kastleman ’11 said the primary role of environmental journalists in the near future will be taking “large, complex” issues such as climate change and communicating their significance to the public. Bidisha Banerjee FES ’10 also remarked on the junction of journalism and climate change to which Kolbert pointed.

“I thought it was striking that Kolbert advised [students] to focus more broadly on climate change,” Banerjee said, “Because it’s an inescapable and urgent issue for our generation.”

Kolbert joined the New Yorker as a staff writer in 1999.

Comments

  • Doug

    Having not attended, I cannot be sure if Kolbert's critique of blogs was as overly broad as this article describes. Yes, democracy thrives when fact-based reporting exists. That, however, happens sometimes on blogs and does not happen sometimes on blogs. AND, that also happens sometimes in print and not sometimes in print.

    The better focus is on the question and challenge of how to increase the number and quality of when it happens. Not to argue over 'forms'.