Friday, March 18, 2005

Blogging GW

GW in this case is my notepad shorthand for "global warming," which is a subset of "gcc" (global climate change). I'm several days into playing pattern recognition with GCC and GW, trying to imagine a structure that would use about 160-200 column inches of newsprint (note: NOT 160-200 inches of narrative COPY) to create a "mental organization tool" for readers.

Now, obviously, that's an unusual proposal for a newspaper. Yes, I'm aware of that.

But here's where I stand: I don't KNOW from global warming. I've worked to know and recognize my biases (skeptical of oil companies/religious fundamentalists... overly credulous of environmentalists and "reasonable" scientists). I accept the propostion that belief of any kind can distort one's view. And, having said all of that, I want, for myself and others, to try to derive a system for examining the competing claims about GW, one that would give me a better sense of what's really going on instead of the usual "he said/she said" surrender that passes for mass media journalism.

This effort is driven in large part by a sensibility posed here by a reader:
"Maybe write a story about how the average person with finite time and interest should go about forming their opinion? e.g. what rules of thumb should they use, e.g. who should they outsource their researching to, to get the best results. (will the 4 year old kid down the street be the most accurate resource? how about the snake oil vendor? the industry shill? the Koran? the Bible? the blogger who sounds most sure of himself? ...)"

However, that sensibility is not enough for what I have in mind. It needs a different structure than the "Dan Conover explains it all for you" structure of a narrative.

Yesterday I spent about an hour on the phone with Tom Yulsman, co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. I needed to talk with someone to help me brainstorm this, and Yulsman was very helpful. But the biggest piece of help he gave me may have been inadvertant. He started speculating about the effect of GW on Charleston oyster farming, thinking aloud about how telling the story of an oysterman and how GW might affect him would grab readers, give them something to relate.

And that was when I realized that this bit of conventional wisdom -- people relate to "people stories" is an undeniable truth of journalism -- was what I wanted to avoid.

I have a theory, untested, unproven: If you can find an honest and comprehensible way to help people organize and evaluate the complex issues that confound them, they'll read it. They won't need oystermen or single-mothers or localization.

I think there is a hunger for straight, credible insight. I want to try to feed it.

Only I'm not quite sure how to do it, or whether a person with my subjective "minority of one" viewpoint is up to the task. So consider this an experiment. Like any honest experiment, it can fail.

All comments are welcome.