Toward the end of The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media (University of Chicago, 2015)–an instant classic that should be on every student of the media’s bookshelf (wooden or virtual)–John Durham Peters calls on journalists to create a new kind of weather report.
“For traditional media scholars, the vision of infrastructure advocated here would encourage us to see media practices and institutions as embedded in relations with both the natural and the human worlds. The digital changes of our times are impossible without mines and minerals, clouds and electrical grids, habits of human want and labor, and global patterns of human inequality and abuse. The mass media of television and radio, journalism and cinema are likewise anchored in human size and shape, optical and acoustic bandwidth, forestry and plastics. If our evolutionary history had not produced the feet, spines, and skulls that we have, our media – and our world – would look very different. Media old and new are embedded in cycles of day and night, weather and climate, energy and culture, and they presuppose large populations of domesticated plants, animals, and humans, to say nothing of an old and cold universe. The digital implies basic facts of biology. We should make a greener media studies that appreciates our long natural history of shaping and being shaped by our habitats as a process of mediation.
For scholars interested in news and journalism, my arguments against content as the essence of communication might at first seem discouraging. But these arguments follow a lineage back to James W. Carey, who saw news as drama and story, habit and ritual. Indeed, survey evidence shows that people are most attached to news about the natural rather than the human world: the weather report. As currently practiced, news is already heavily environmental, perhaps without claiming it, and weather reporting is perhaps the biggest investment in daily science communication that exists. If this book had one policy proposal to make, it would be to call for a vastly enhanced weather report that moved beyond the daily kairos of the weather to the generational chronos of the climate. Like most good policy proposals, this one is wildly idealistic, especially as it faces one of the best-known facts in the sociobiology of news production: its daily short-term bias. As slow-moving stories of all kinds tend to fall out of the diurnal round of journalistic attention, this proposal joins other calls that tie the well-being of democracy to a shift in the culture and business of news. Nonetheless, the pieced are in place: we have a vast weather-watching and –reporting infrastructure that daily puts a human face on complex nonhuman data and could deepen into public drama and information about our climate, atmosphere, and latest co-evolutionary tinkering with our geohabitat. The weather report of the future could cultivate the best attachments to out earth and world. The public sphere has always needed nature as its condition, but today it needs it as content as well.” —from “Conclusion: The Sabbath Of Meaning,” pp. 377-378