Aggregation! Research! Context! Oh my! (Adventures at WMUA pt. 2)

I’m still feeling proud of myself. Wednesday, at 5:30pm on WMUA, I read two stories that I had done some more significant research for. They weren’t proper reporting: I didn’t get any interviews, I didn’t find the lead and hunt it down. But I drew from multiple sources, and came to some good conclusions. I did some things that the places I first encountered the ideas didn’t do (not particularly complex additions, but that’s alright).
The first story was one about what the possible effects of climate change may have been on the creation of Hurricane Sandy. [Pro tip: don’t try and understand all of meteorology in an afternoon. It will not go well.]

I started with an article about the idea on Grist. That story linked to Boingboing (a pretty cool blog run by a small host of people, they’re an aggregate news site; they pull stuff from around the web and comment on it, sometimes from one source, sometimes from many, with some original content, mostly reviews) where they pulled from, with extensive quotation, Mother Jones, Greg Laden on, and NPR. I followed those links to try and understand all of it. And also ended up on the Discovery Channel News website reading about the impact of rising sea levels on the East Coast (I wanted to know how much of a rise in sea level it would take to flood New York City). Then I worked at putting all of these things together, in a manner that I hoped was different from the spin the writers at Grist and BoingBoing had put on it.

Because, I’m coming to realize as I attempt this whole “journalism” lark, in a more practical sense, there are two types of original content: there is the original content of investigative journalism and/or beat reporting, where you go to a place and inform people about what is happening, or find a person and ask them about whatever it is they’re doing. And then there is the kind where you help create a big picture of something; you help contextualize an event by doing the research that people don’t necessarily have the time to do themselves. Maybe you know about the hurricane or the jailed journalist, but maybe you don’t know about the rise in ocean temperatures, or the other journalists who are being punished for dissident comments. And it’s valuable to be able to provide that context. (My personal obsession with long form journalism stems entirely from my obsession with context. You can only realize whether and how important something is if you know the context of any given thing.)

Transcript of my report on Hurricane Sandy and climate change:

(Much appreciation is reserved for my editor, Kyle, who helped make the prose of the report more comprehensible. Attempting to understand all of meteorology in an afternoon fried the overall processing capacity of my brain and left me turning out highly run-on sentences.)

The nickname “Frankenstorm” has been used often for Hurricane Sandy, partially due to speculation that mankind can be implicated in its arrival. But did global warming play a part in the formation of the storm that incapacitated New York City and the the lives of over 50 Americans? The weather events of the past few days can’t be correlated directly to the effects of climate change as scientists are still unsure exactly how everything comes together to create the kind of dramatic weather seen with hurricanes and nor’easters, according to NPR’s Adam Frank. What scientists have shown is that warmer waters give strength to storms, helping them last longer and go farther. This year, the Atlantic has broken records for high temperatures, the only other time temperatures have been higher was in 2003. The overall increase in temperature on the planet has also increased the amount of moisture in the air, which means that precipitation has increased overall. The fact that the water level of the Atlantic has risen, between 44 to 81.7mm, since 1990, also means that the destructive power of hurricanes has increased. Discovery News reports that a recent study shows that all it would take is a meter rise in sea level to bring New York’s severe flooding risk from one incident every century to one every three years. These are all factors that have contributed to the power of the so-called “Frankenstorm.” Scientists agree that Sandy is a freak natural event; the combination of a hurricane and a nor’easter, but they also warn that the gradual warming of the planet will increase the likelihood of these events, by giving hurricanes more power as they move up the coast, and by letting them travel further north, as the waters get warmer.

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