National Press Club

Climate analysts share data, sourcing tips for Sunshine Week

March 13, 2019 | By Justin Duckman | justinjduckham@gmail.com

Emily Therese Cloyd, director of American Association for the Advancement of Science's Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, right, speaks at Monday's event.

Emily Therese Cloyd, director of American Association for the Advancement of Science's Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, right, speaks at Monday's event.

Photo/Image: Alan Kotok

A firm grasp of the latest data and insight into the independence of sources are both valuable tools for journalists tasked with climate reporting, a panel of climate analysts said during a discussion at the National Press Club on Monday.

Emily Therese Cloyd, director for public engagement with science and technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, advised reporters to turn to data sets maintained by the federal government, calling them "a really good place to start.”

Cloyd also suggested Climate Central’s Surging Seas Project and the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Data Encyclopedia for deeper dives.

While access to trusted raw data is important, Eliot Negin, a former journalist who is now a senior writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the press needs a better understanding of the experts they interview.

“Reporters are supposed to give all sides of the story, but the question is, 'Who are your sources?'" Negin said. "What do you know about a spokesperson from a particular think tank? What do you know about the think tank?”

Negin pointed to a variety of sources that track funding for various foundations, including the ProPublica Non-Profit Explorer and the Foundation Center.

Beyond the basics, the two panelists shared tips for how reporters can bring climate change to the forefront.

“There are a lot of stories that provide a hook for climate change,” Cloyd said. “In D.C., we always want to know when cherry blossoms are going to be at peak. These are opportunities to think about how climate change might connect with the everyday fun or scary things people are already thinking about in their lives.”

Negin suggested that this strategy applies to natural disasters as well.

“It’s really important when you talk about an extreme weather event, remind people this is in keeping with what climate scientists have been saying,” Negin said. “We don’t know immediately that you can link everything to climate change, but scientists actually are doing much better at going backwards, not even that far, and saying ‘yeah, we can link this to climate change.’”

Monday’s event, hosted by the National Press Club Journalism Institute and the Freedom of the Press Committee, marked the start of Sunshine Week, an annual initiative aimed at drawing attention to the importance of transparency in government.