Sports and the end of the world

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I’ve worked several newsrooms in my time, always at small rural papers and always as the only man on staff. As a consequence I became the de facto sports reporter, expected to assemble an entire section of the paper with photos, scores, interviews with players and coaches, and my insights on the worlds of hockey, rugby, soccer, basketball and softball, every week, entirely without supervision.

The only problem is that I don’t follow sports, never have, and in most cases don’t know the rules. My woman colleagues – exceptional journalists in every regard – trusted that my manhood would see me through, revealing the intricacies of curling with the same sureness that Issac Newton unveiled the laws of motion. Instead I spent years attending, and clumsily reporting upon, games I barely understood, quoting coaches whose words might as well have been Arabic and players who, by some miracle, rarely saw through me.

I should never have been a sports reporter, nor given a stretch of newspaper I wasn’t qualified to manage. I got by, but my sports reporting was subpar, a fraction of what it could have been in the hands of a professional who understood these sports, the leagues into which they were organized, the language employed and, most importantly, the questions which needed answered to make for compelling reading.

I’m admitting all this because my experiences with sports reporting offer a handy analogy. Sports have a dedicated section in almost every news outlet, no matter how small, and are assembled competently by the aforementioned professionals. Business, lifestyle, even politics receive much the same treatment, each representing an important aspect of our national discourse. Climate change and mass extinction, however, are not likewise represented.

There is some excellent reporting on these subjects across North America, by people who have developed the skills necessary to do them justice, but extremely few newsrooms have staff dedicated to these hopelessly complicated and stupendously important subjects, filled, as they are, with pitfalls and nuances sometimes beyond the grasp of general reporters. The number of newspapers with a section dedicated to environmental issues –  between them threatening the foundations of civilization – can be counted on one hand. The reporters being asked to cover them understand the scale of climate change about as well as I understand softball.

This is a problem, because if we as a nation are going to halt our tragic loss of native wildlife, the ineffectual condition of our environmental legislation, the lethargy of lawmakers in addressing climate change and its impacts on food and water security within our lifetimes, we must be informed, not with cursory coverage but with concentrated and groundbreaking journalism, exploring these issues from every angle, every day. We need a dedicated climate and wildlife section in our major newspapers and on the airwaves, capable of calling out lacklustre solutions and the misleading comments of leadership, and we need it yesterday.

When Extinction Rebellion – the spontaneous international movement intent on rescuing the planet – marched through the streets of Halifax April 15 they didn’t go straight to the halls of government and Emera. Their first two steps were the Chronicle Herald and CBC, demanding coverage worthy of climate change and mass extinction. While these news organizations certainly touch on both from time to time, their coverage is reactive, simple and lacking entirely in inspired followup. A report came out in October last year saying we have 12 years (now 11) to significantly reduce our carbon emissions or else face the apocalypse scenario of climate change, and this past May another report detailed how 1 million species could face extinction in the next couple decades. Neither of these should ever have left our headlines, but somehow they did.

My point is that the end of the world is at least as important as the latest hockey game, and that we as journalists have a vocational responsibility to measure up. I have worked with some incredible people and understand as well as anyone how taxing this job can be, but climate change and mass extinction are the single most important subjects ever to go unreported, deserving their own section and staff, so we as Canadians might come to grips with out inaction in time to do something about it.

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes.

Shown above is a softball game.