The UMass Amherst Alumni Association hosted award winning environmental journalist Peter Thomson for a public interview on Thursday, October 6th. Thomson, who graduated from the university with a major in Social Thought and Political Economy in 1985, has worked for National Public Radio and Public Radio International, published books, and through all of this provided critical coverage of environmental issues. UMass chancellor Robert Holub introduced Thomson, describing him as “a scientist storyteller. He makes environmental crises comprehensible to the reader.”
Peter Thomson first began his journalism career working in radio for WFCR on the UMass campus, and it was here that he “had the chance to start recording about environmental issues,” he explained. Despite the journalistic path he was walking in radio, he never pursued the Journalism major as his academic goal. “I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but I didn’t want to take journalism classes. I wanted to learn about the world that I was going to be covering.” So he studied STPEC and believes this has helped him learn to think about the issues at hand, and bring strong analytical skills to every subject he covers.
Thomson was interviewed by a UMass student, and the focus of the event was to gain insight on key environmental issues, particularly climate change, and how they are covered in the media. He feels that there has been a tremendous amount of, what he calls, terrible journalism surrounding climate change. He does not feel people hear enough about these types of global environmental issues in daily news, and that much of the coverage that is done searches for balance where there is none. By this Thomson meant that although science is not certain, the science, which is agreed upon by the vast majority of experts on the subject, does not provide a balanced stance. “It is journalistic malpractice to approach a story about climate change looking for balance,” he emphatically stated more than once.
This lead into a discussion of how to move forward with environmental journalism, due to the critical adjustments that can be seen in the media world. Despite these changes, Thomson emphasized that the role of the journalist is still the same. “I don’t think it’s the job of the journalist to get behind particular solutions. It is our job to say this is what’s happening and these are your choices. Now make your own choices.” Although it was clear that Thomson, as the grandson of an organic farmer, cares deeply about environmental issues, it was also clear that he cares deeply for his journalistic integrity. “As a citizen, I might hope [people] make certain choices, but it’s not my job to tell them to.”
Even if Peter Thomson does not directly tell any individual to make certain choices, he is providing crucial environmental coverage for people so that they can at least make educated choices.