The environmental journalism Sydney-(out)sider
PBS NewsHour’s feature story “Why some penguin populations are shrinking,” reported on by Synclaire Cruel, was published on World Penguin Day: Tuesday the 25th of April. The story focuses on a report released by nonprofit environmental group, Oceanites, showing that populations of Antarctic penguin have dropped “more than 25 percent on average over the past two decades.” According to the report by Oceanites, these sharp declines in several penguin populations can be attributed to climate change. The story then goes on to explain the causal relationship between the two phenomenons; ending with a dire warning that humanity could be next.
As a reader with very little background in science, I think Synclaire does a stellar job at communicating the findings of the study in layman’s terms, making the science accessible to general readers like myself. The main purpose of Synclaire’s story seems to be to share the scientific research published by Oceanites on Penguin populations in Antarctica to the general public.
The story’s writing is pretty objective, being careful to use external quotes to make claims about the correlation between climate change and penguin populations, and climate change and human populations. That said, it is clear that Synclaire is writing from a pro-environment, pro-science, pro-climate adaptation, pro-climate mitigation, anti-climate inaction and anti-climate denial perspective. In other words, Synclaire is far from a climate skeptic and very much sympathetic towards the climate change movement—as he should be.
In the story, Synclaire makes zero attempt to accommodate the opinion of any climate skeptics in his article. In our class discussion, a classmate mentioned that he would have personally liked the opinion of a climate skeptic in the story, as it would have made the skeptic appear absolutely ridiculous. Though this idea sounds fantastic in theory, I am quite wary of its ability to backfire and cause even more confusion over the credibility of climate change. In other words, the idea hinges on the assumption that the reader can differentiate between fact and fiction, reason and absurdity. I somehow doubt this is always the case.
When it comes to the story’s sources, its main sources are the report from the nonprofit environmental group Oceanites, quotes from founder of Oceanites and lead investigator on the report Ron Naveen, and quotes from penguin expert not involved in the study Dyan deNapoli. Of these sources, only the latter is a direct source. We agreed in class that Synclaire could have included a few direct sources and quotes from researchers involved in the study. However, we also acknowledged that there was little other direct sources Synclaire could have reached out to for his story given the proximity of the Antarctic peninsula.