While it’s not unusual for Syracuse residents to escape the cold with a winter trip to Florida, what Gaurav Shetty ’22 chose to do with his time in the sunshine state was a little unconventional. Equipped with his camera and a notepad, Shetty spent four days in January seeking out sites around Miami where he could document evidence of sea level rise caused by climate change. His photos capture palm trees and sun-drenched skies—and also sheets of saltwater flooding public parks and creeping up walls that were never meant to be submerged.
Shetty, a double major in newspaper and online journalism in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and international relations in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, was conducting on-site research for his Reneé Crown University Honors Program thesis on the journalism of climate change. Journalism mediates the way people understand and incorporate scientific information into their lives, he says, so looking at the way climate change has been covered provides insight into historic and prevailing attitudes about climate change—and guidance on how journalism could shape future understandings and responses.
Ethics of Climate Journalism
Early in his second year at Syracuse University, Shetty’s curiosity was captivated by a course on the ethics of journalism. “It was really fascinating to learn about perceived bias and that, as gatekeepers of information, journalists serve the public good and have a responsibility to do no harm,” he says. When it came time to decide on a topic for his Honors thesis, Shetty and his advisor, professor of magazine, news and digital journalism Melissa Chessher, developed a project enabling Shetty to study how the conventions of journalism have been a factor determining cultural views of climate change.
Historically, climate change has proven challenging for journalists, Shetty says, because it lacks the immediacy that drives most journalism. “Climate change is abstract until it’s too late,” he explains. “And by the time people are experiencing the effects, it might get reported on without reference to the larger causes.”
Also problematic, he says, has been the convention of balancing viewpoints—traditionally considered a pillar of journalistic impartiality. In reporting on climate change issues, however, this practice has sometimes led to unscientific or inaccurate statements being framed as comparable to data- and expert-supported theories.
And the economics of the industry—including budget cuts as newsrooms adjust to a new media landscape—have strained resources available for in-depth reporting on complex climate-related issues.
It’s our responsibility as communicators to take information and put it in terms people understand. Because if people understand, then they care and are motivated to put the time and effort into advocating for solutions.—Gaurav Shetty ’22
Shetty reached out to seasoned environment and climate journalists around the country to chronicle their experiences and perspectives. Florida emerged as a particularly interesting area of study because impacts of climate change are increasingly evident there, and the readership of one of its main newspapers, the Miami Herald, is politically diverse.
Chessher advocates for on-the-ground reporting as an essential component of powerful and accurate journalism. “In the context of journalism, climate change is an ever-expanding, important issue—in some way, almost every story is or will be a climate story,” Chessher says. “At Newhouse, students gain the skills and expertise to tell these complicated stories, and that means doing more than talking to a source on the phone or on Zoom. Particularly with a climate story, reporting on it requires seeing it.” Shetty was awarded funding through the Honors program, making it possible for him to experience in person some of what the climate reporters at the Miami Herald contend with.
A Promising Future
Shetty, who grew up in Virginia near Washington, D.C., is first in his family to attend college in the United States (his parents earned their undergraduate degrees in India), and he’s made the most of the wide range of opportunities he discovered at Syracuse.
When he first enrolled, he envisioned a future in sports broadcasting. Though his career goals shifted after he discovered his love for writing and interest in current events, Shetty has served as a sports reporter for the Daily Orange throughout his undergraduate years, producing more than 140 stories, to date. “I interviewed so many great players and coaches, traveled with the teams, visited all kinds of stadiums—it was a great experience and leaves me with memories I’ll always treasure,” he says.
Shetty also studied overseas through Syracuse Abroad. In 2021, he lived in Copenhagen for 10 weeks and took courses toward his international relations major. Shetty relished the immersive experience of living in an apartment with Danish peers, the long Scandinavian summer days, biking for hours around the city and getting an education in subjects wholly new to him, like urban design and city planning.
Media plays a huge role in where we go with climate change—and I believe the next generation of reporters will help us all do better.—Gaurav Shetty ’22
Another highlight was an internship he did with New York State senator Rachel May through a Maxwell School political science course. He appreciates the insight this gave him into legislation and governance, which he can also analyze through the lens of a reporter.
“Through my tenure at Syracuse, I've become someone who's not afraid to try new things,” Shetty says. And the diversity of his experiences, and the complementary perspectives gained through studying international relations and journalism, have already led to opportunity. In the fall, Shetty accepted a job offer with Grant Thornton, a Virginia-based consulting firm. When he starts in that position after graduation in May, he will be drawing on what he’s learned from both his majors. “I’ll be working with government agencies, so my international relations background will be really helpful. So too will be the communication skills I learned as a journalist, since the core of being a consultant is knowledge transfer and being able to communicate information effectively.”
Understanding how to explain complex concepts clearly and meaningfully is one of the skills Shetty values most from his Newhouse education. And it’s the skill that he believes will help future journalists address pressing problems posed by climate change. “It’s our responsibility as communicators to take information and put it in terms people understand. Because if people understand, then they care and are motivated to put the time and effort into advocating for solutions,” he says. “Media plays a huge role in where we go with climate change—and I believe the next generation of reporters will help us all do better.”