Reaction to Global Warning project

By Heather Somerville
Medill National Security Reporting Project
Reporting from Washington

“I think student journalists don’t often get the respect that working journalists get. I think we proved that when you have all the pieces in place, have the right students and have the right topic, you can do innovative stuff.”
– Heather Somerville, a Global Warning reporter, as quoted in a new AJR story on the students’ efforts).

It took months of rigorous research, hundreds of interviews and thousands of miles traveled, but on Jan. 10, 2011, reporters from the Medill National Security Reporting Project unveiled findings from their investigation into the national security threat of climate change.

The reporters, 10 graduate students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, broke news about the government’s failures to address climate change, the military’s preparations for climate disasters and the security threat of a changing global environment.

The project, Global Warning, immediately caught the attention of security experts and prominent media organizations after it was featured in major media outlets in the U.S. and around the world. Three stories in the Global Warning series were published in The Washington Post. Others were picked up by McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington website and sent to hundreds of publications across the nation.

Will Rogers at the Center for a New American Security called the project “an excellent resource for those currently studying climate change and national security issues, but also for building out that audience.”

The feedback quickly poured in through the Global Warning social media network of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and e-newsletters, which reporters used daily during the three-month investigation. Environmentalists, military officials, security experts, journalists, academics and nonprofit organizations commented on the sophistication of Global Warning’s reporting and presentation.

Published in print and online in three installments, the Global Warning investigative series uncovered critical data gaps in U.S. intelligence on climate change, the shortcomings of military preparations for environmental changes and efforts by the George W. Bush administration to shutter climate change research. The stories take a hard look into some of the most critical national security threats posed by climate change, the political and financial challenges surrounding climate change and security issues, and where the U.S. government is unprepared to deal with them. Reporters went to the Arctic, Peru, Bangladesh, the Gulf Coast, NASA and CIA headquarters to find the stories.

The Huffington Post featured a Tweet that trumpeted the “amazing reporting” on the national security threat of climate change.

The team’s work appeared in The Miami Herald, The Vancouver Sun, The Kansas City Star, The Olympian, The Seattle Times and dozens of other media outlets. Major publications including USA Today, The Hill and Forbes linked to the stories and the Global Warning website, which features innovative multimedia and a library of documents that the team used in their reporting.

Global Warning stories dominated McClatchy’s web traffic the day of the project’s launch, taking three of the top-five spots for the most-emailed stories. Environmental publications including Climate Progress and Society for Environmental Journalists featured Global Warning stories on their websites, and the stories appeared on numerous blogs and news aggregate sites.

Here is a rundown of some of the commentary on the investigation:

• Will Rogers at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense policy research center, blogged about Global Warning’s innovative graphics and reporting. Rodgers called the project “an excellent resource for those currently studying climate change and national security issues, but also for building out that audience.” CNA natural security fellow Christine Parthemore Tweeted her praise for the project.

• Global Warning got a shout-out from environment reporter Bryan Walsh on Ecocentric, a blog published on Walsh wrote: “In a world of shrinking media resources and shorter attention spans … Medill’s Global Warning project shows how it can be done.”

• Ezra Klein of The Washington Post highlighted the project and Jacquelyn Ryan’s story on securing U.S. interests in the melting Arctic in his morning Wonkbook. Jeff Stein at The Washington Post wrote about Global Warning in his column SpyTalk, highlighting Annie Snider’s and Charles Mead’s story about challenges at the CIA climate change center.

• Global Warning got a nod via Twitter from Andrew Revkin, who writes The New York Times Dot Earth blog.

•The Huffington Post featured a Tweet that trumpeted the “amazing reporting” on the national security threat of climate change by Medill post-grad journalists.

•Experts at the U.S. Navy Climate Change Center and Center for Naval Analyses applauded Global Warning reporters in e-mails.

•The Institute for Environmental Security featured the project on its Environmental Security Action Guide, which compiles the most useful web resources on environment and security.

• Climate change news site The Daily Climate called Global Warning an “A+ package” of reporting.

• Andrew Holland, climate change and security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Tweeted that Global Warning is “a great product of serious reporting” and calling one of the interactive graphics “a visual that makes complex links between climate and security simple.”

• Geoff Dabelko, environmental security expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, sent his congratulations with a Tweet of “Well done guys!”

Since the project’s publication, Global Warning reporters have moved on in the journalism industry, with some taking jobs at The New York Times, Greenwire and Bloomberg. Global Warning was the first project in a series of annual investigative reporting efforts by Medill’s National Security Journalism Initiative.

Read a collection of reactions to the project on the next page.

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