Tyler Hamilton yesterday offered on his blog Clean Brake a post on the problems of environmental/energy journalists. The post is also up on the Energy Collective. Hamilton discusses what he sees as the decline of environmental/energy journalism as a profession. Hamilton is sometimes a foil for me, because of his quite overt and poorly informed hostility to nuclear power, and the fact that he sometimes acts as an uncritical cheerleader for dubious renewables energy schemes.
In my view environmental and energy journalists like Hamilton have not done as good a job as they could or should have. For example, many environmental journalists pay far to much attention to AGW skeptics, and ignore the weakness of their arguments. Energy journalist as a group are poorly informed on nuclear technology, and often promote the views anti-nuclear myths of figures like Amory Lovins, and organizations like Greenpeace. Such behavior, in my view, impedes the struggle to control AGW.
Energy/environmental journalist appear to be untrained in the art of parsing press releases. Often the most important information in energy related press releases lies in what they do not say, or in hedges. Sometime the full implications of a press release has to be deduced. For example, a press release may talk about the cost of a German off shore wind project, with out mentioning rated capacity or capacity factor. These may be deliberate omissions. The German organization that originated the press release is not interested in the public knowing that the cost per rated kW of the off shore wind is actually higher than the cost per rated kW of electricity from a nuclear plant, or that when capacity factors are taken into account, the wind mills will cost over two and a half times as much per unit of output to build.
Unfortunately, I have been forced to the conclusion that some of the failings of energy journalists stem form inadequate education, a lack of professional skills and personal prejudices. Energy journalists appear to be poorly informed about nuclear power, and often they simply do not understand fundamental concepts, such as defensive and natural nuclear safety. Energy journals also appear to lack he analytic skills needed to distinguish between fact and hype in press releases. Finally, the writings of many energy journalists appear to reflect anti-nuclear prejudices.
As a consequence of their poor training, lack of analytic skills and prejudices, energy journalists contribute to the current public confusion about energy issues, rather than to clarify them. The fundamental problem with energy journalists is that many of them do not do a good job, and from the viewpoint of a general assignment editor, they have little to contribute beyond what a general assignment reporter has to offer.
One of the consequences of these failings is that people like Dan Yurman, Rod Adams, Kirk Sorensen, Barry Brook, David Walters and yes even myself, have stepped into the gap, at least on the Internet. Thus when Wired Magazine's Richard Martin wanted to do a story on Thorium he consulted with Kirk Sorensen, but not with energy journalists. Martin specializes in science and technology journalism. There should not be a difference between energy and environmental journalism and science and technology journalism, but unfortunately there is, and that difference does not reflect well on the energy and environmental journalists as a group.