Five things the media needs to learn about reporting on wildlife

Journalism has changed in the internet age. Deadlines are tighter, turnover for stories is faster, and the competition is only increasing due to blogs and social media. But that doesn’t excuse sloppy reporting. Verifying sources, identifying the best form of an argument, and researching citations remains critical, particularly in wildlife or environmental reporting, when erroneous information can cost lives.

The Fur-Bearers know, of course, that most journalists are doing the best they can with what they have. That’s why we’ve assembled this list of five easy things the media can do to improve their reporting of wildlife-related stories, and, in the long-term, the lives of animals everywhere.

  1. Ask for citations. It’s pretty easy to say that a particular species’ population is on the rise. But there’s a big difference between “an apparent increase in sightings” and a measurable, verifiable increase in the number of animals in a specific region. A recent example of this can be found in a New Hampshire Public Radio broadcast in which a trapper states beaver populations are up – and it isn’t questioned, cited, or verified, by the reporter, giving the impression that it is fact.
  2. Consider bias of sources. Everyone has a bias; it’s a matter of whether or not it’s recognized. Trappers, non-profits, scientists, and even government agencies will have a bias based on their own experiences, their personal and professional goals, and even cultural norms. Identifying such a bias may assist in looking for additional sources, or counter arguments. This was seen in an article regarding Algonquin wolves in which a trapper stated – without apparent debate or change – that trapping was necessary to “control predator populations” of coyotes and wolves.
  3. Read what a study says, not what scientists say. In an attempt to make research more appealing, scientists (and those who represent them) will sometimes make big claims about what a study could mean. There’s no big issue in having that conversation, but often the media doesn’t properly frame it as such – a theoretical discussion as opposed to strictly reporting on the facts. It’s important to review any study being reported on prior to interviewing or running a story that includes it to ensure accuracy and fact-based reporting.
  4. Be aware of fallacies. Many academics spend weeks upon weeks learning about the hundreds of types of fallacies that are known to exist – faults in logic that make arguments and conclusions invalid. But fallacies come up in every day life, and they aren’t often considered in reporting. Donald Trump currently serves as the best example of the profound acceptance the media has for fallacies, but an in-depth list and explanation of many other common fallacies can be found on this website.
  5. Give the animals a voice. Would you ever consider not allowing a person intimately involved in a story the opportunity to comment? Probably not. But this happens regularly when stories about animals come up. This isn’t to say you should go interview a bear (the translation never quite works out), but that’s not the only way to give an animal a voice in your reporting. An outstanding paper, Giving Voice to the Voiceless,was penned by a group of academics (Drs. Carrie Packwood Freeman, Marc Bekoff, and Sarah Bexell) using existing journalistic standards to incorporate non-human animals into reporting. It’s something every journalist should read.

It’s important, too, for reporters who do the work and provide fair coverage on wildlife issues, to be properly acknowledged. The Fur-Bearers will regularly send a note to such reporters and thank them, on behalf of the animals.

Most non-human animals want the same things that we do – a home, a good meal, and a safe place to raise their families. Isn’t it fair that the same standards of reporting on stories for people apply to them?

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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