An environmental advocate writing for the Worldwatch Institute’s “Eye on Earth” points to media coverage of the hacked e-mails as a test of journalists’ understanding of climate science. Most media do not get a passing grade from writer Ben Block.

“The widespread willingness to regard it as a matter of political debate, with two sides deserving equal attention, reflected a lack of journalistic progress” he wrote in “Covering Climate Change.” He quoted Columbia University climatologist Peter deMenocal as complaining of “a total manipulation. The press reacted like lemmings – they jumped on it and it’s a non-issue.” That interpretation runs counter to other complaints that most general-circulation media paid too little attention to the hacked e-mails story, confirming for some a liberal or “green” bias on the part of some reporters.

In his article, Block pointed to economic turmoil leading to staffing and news hole contractions for many mainstream news organizations. “Remaining reporters are expected to cover issues such as climate change along with their regular reporting duties,” he wrote. He pointed to fewer U.S. newspapers’ having foreign bureaus or reporters and to what he wrote-off as increased “shallowness” in reporting. Not himself an accredited reporter, Block wrote that he covered aspects of this past December’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen in part because he “snuck into the press room through a door in the men’s bathroom.” He faulted many reporters in Copenhagen for having “travel[led] in packs … and overlook more difficult stories on issues such as adaptation, indigenous peoples’ rights, and technology.”

“Short deadlines and a tumultuous reporting environment” contributed to what he saw as frequent reporting shortcomings, he wrote.

Block’s prescription for healing some of the ills he sees in the news media will sound familiar: more interdisciplinary training for journalism students, including environmental education.