Tuning in Slowly

In April of 1991, National Public Radio (NPR) began running a regular environmentally focused news segment called “Living on Earth.” NPR was the first major news outlet to take environmental news seriously. According to Bruce Gellerman, a longtime environmental reporter and alternative host for “Living on Earth,” “We’ve been reporting on the cutting edge of this topic for a long time
topics like endocrine disruptors, climate change, social justice and lead.” For many years, it seemed that NPR was the only major media outlet with any consistent focus on environmental stories. “The world finally caught up to our environmental reporting. It’s extraordinary how long it has taken,” says Gellerman.

Now, major television networks have begun to add environmental news to their local programming, like KRON 4 in San Francisco, California, WLUC 6 in Marquette, Michigan, KWG 8 in Portland, Oregon, and KLFY 10 in Lafayette, Louisiana. Some national programs have followed suit. This past Nov-ember, NBC had a week of programming with a green theme, and it’s committed to making its “The More You Know” campaign more eco-conscious. Even Comedy Central has an “Address the Mess’ campaign aimed at reducing waste and improving environmental consciousness.

The trend has led Discovery Communications to take the big plunge: They launched Planet Green, an entire cable network dedicated to green programming, this past June. And they’re counting on star power to keep it afloat. Eco-celebrity actor Leonardo DiCaprio is executive producing a show on the green overhaul of tornado-struck Greensburg, Kansas, Emeril Lagasse is cooking organic meals and Adrian Grenier of the HBO hit series Entourage is leading a pack of environmentally conscious friends in home makeovers and green product testing in the series Alter Eco.

“It’s getting consumers to rethink the way they live,” says Stacy-Ann Gooden, feature reporter and weather anchor of White Plains, New York’s Regional News Network and host of their “I on the Environment” feature. “There are so many simple things that can be done like recycling, eating more organic food [and] using fluorescent light bulbs.”

Sometimes the changes are more internal than explicit. Fox TV is testing its eco-conscious limits on the television series 24, using biodiesel generators and energy-efficient bulbs on set.

But straight reporting on environmental issues still faces hurdles on mainstream TV. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “State of the News Media, 2008,”coverage of environmental topics made up only one percent of cable news, three percent of network evening news, one percent of online news and two percent of newspaper stories.

As Gellerman says, “Environmental and scientific news still has the problem of being kind of nerdy.”