Columbia Journalism Review Spring 2020

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) encourages and stimulates excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. Published by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, CJR examines press performance as well as the forces that affect it. The bimonthly magazine offers a deliberative mix of reporting, analysis, criticism, and commentary.

United States
Columbia University in City of New York
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min

Emily Atkin is the author and founder of HEATED, a daily newsletter dedicated to reporting and analysis on the climate crisis. Previously, she was the climate staff writer at the New Republic. Mary Cuddehe has written for Harper’s, Rolling Stone, The Atavist, and Vanity Fair, among other publications. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School. Betsy Hartmann is professor emerita of development studies at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and author of The America Syndrome: Apocalypse, War, and Our Call to Greatness (2017). Eva Holland is a freelance writer based in Canada’s Yukon. Her first book, Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear, comes out in April. E. Tammy Kim is a freelance reporter and essayist whose writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York…

8 min
the story of our time

JOURNALISM HAS ALWAYS BEEN good at fast. The home team won. An old woman was shot. A president was elected. The quicker a story moves, the more compressed the drama, the better we are at reporting it. Slow is harder. Stories that contain subtlety, that evolve, that don’t have an ending—those aren’t our strength. Racism, systemic poverty, the long-term effects of outdated policy—these are subjects that we’ve consistently failed to get our arms around. We chase the immediate, the ephemeral, and ignore the seismic, the fundamental. The reasons are understandable. Reporting on an event is easier than becoming deeply immersed, over time, in complex characters and bureaucracies. On television, time is tight; in print, space is limited. The gratification in quick hits is shallow but fast. Over the past decade, the encroachment…

7 min
good grief

IN COLLEGE, MY PROFESSORS taught me that journalism played an essential role in democracy by helping voters make informed decisions. Reporting meant making an impact. So when I was job-hunting and I saw an open position on the climate beat, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to make a difference. Climate change was a solvable problem, I figured. If I served readers the facts, my job would one day become obsolete, and the earth would be saved. I started in November 2013 as a climate reporter for Think-Progress, a liberal news site. My first assignment was about a prospective Senate candidate from Texas who said that global warming was God’s punishment for women who got abortions. Obviously, that was wrong; the guy was a dangerous idiot. But I kept those thoughts…

7 min
on the side of facts

ONE DAY IN 1990, a friend of mine asked if I would have lunch with Al Gore, who was then the junior senator from Tennessee. Gore was writing his first book, Earth in the Balance, which, when it was published, in 1992, would warn of an impending crisis of global warming. (The term “climate change” was less commonly used in newspapers in those days.) Gore had told my friend that he wanted to talk about the gravity of the subject and make a pitch for more coverage. At the time, I was a science reporter at the Washington Post. Global warming was only vaguely on my radar. My main responsibility was to focus on the aids epidemic—a distressing, fulltime job—but I also wrote more generally about medicine and, occasionally, about the…

6 min
the biggest emergency

ONE NIGHT LAST November, Jon Eagle Sr., tribal historian of the Standing Rock Sioux, spoke at a hearing before the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Three years had passed since the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and though life on the prairie had returned to some semblance of normalcy, concerns of a potential oil spill remained. “We’re still here, an ancient people, deeply connected to our environment, deeply connected to this land, this water, and this earth,” Eagle said. The hearing, held in the sleepy ranch town of Linton, would determine whether the volume of Bakken crude oil moving through the Dakota Access Pipeline would increase to 1.1 million barrels daily—double the flow for which it was originally designed. Two hundred and fifty miles north, in Edinburg, oil oozed from a rupture…

6 min
the ecofascists

LAST NOVEMBER, Tucker Carlson invited Justin Haskins, the editorial director of the Heartland Institute, to discuss climate change on his popular talk show. The Heartland Institute is a climate-denial think tank, and given Fox News’s penchant for climate misinformation, the appearance of one of its representatives on the channel was hardly surprising. According to a report by Public Citizen, a watchdog group, “The millions of Americans who tune into Fox News are regularly bombarded with messages intended to undermine climate science, cast climate advocates as hysterical and frame climate policy as dangerous and un-American.” The episode offered something different from Fox’s usual slant, however. Haskins’s rhetoric departed from climate denialism, pure and simple, in favor of blaming immigrants for causing environmental damage—an ideology known as the “greening of hate.” Supposing that…