Coverage of climate change in 2008 pales quantitatively when compared with previous years’ upward trends. Victim of the global financial crisis? Of news room “down sizing”? Of polar bears having become “old news”? Of short attention spans and perhaps “climate fatigue” on the part of editors and audiences? All this and more?
A quantitative and qualitative look at mainstream media coverage of “the story of the century.” And what a new year, a new administration in Washington, and a critical year-end international negotiation may mean for coverage in 2009.
Business Beat Perspective
John Carey is a Business Week Senior Correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has covered science, technology, medicine, health, energy, and the environment for the magazine since joining it nearly 20 years ago and has written extensively and insightfully on climate change. He earlier had worked for six years for Newsweek and in other journalism positions, and his reporting has earned a number of respected journalism awards, including one from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS.
Carey has a B.S. degree in biochemistry from Yale University, an M.Sc. in marine biology from the University College of North Wales, and an M.F.S. in forest ecology from Yale. In this e-mail Q&A, he looks back at coverage of climate change in the year now ending … and ahead to what 2009 may hold in store.
The Mix - Climate Scientists and Op-Eds
Last summer the head of Harvard University’s Science, Technology and Public Policy program, John Holdren, penned an argument on the subject of climate change sufficiently compelling that The Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune eagerly published it. On the morning of August 4, 2008, however, subscribers opened their newspapers and read in the Opinion pages a different version of Holdren’s original viewpoint, “Climate Change Skeptics are Dangerously Wrong.”
Publish a climate change-related news story, and be ready for pointed attacks, long knives, and brutal dismissals. And expect accusations of political bias and conspiracy.
That’s still the rule for the nation’s veteran environmental and science reporters, despite changing attitudes on climate change from the public at large.
A Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article portrays the city’s broadcast meteorologists as consisting of a disproportionate number of “on-air personalities who are pushing hard against the prevailing winds of climate science.”
Along with forecasting the weekend weather and providing five-day forecasts, your “local TV meteorologists … also will tell you that human-caused global warming is hogwash,” reporter Michael Scott wrote in the December 3 article. His piece within days had drawn more than 200 often ranting comments on the paper’s website, topping even an article on the Cleveland Browns’ having acquired a new quarterback, “rare for any news story,” Scott notes.
Reporting on climate change clearly held its own in 2008 prize competitions honoring the year’s best journalism.
As has been the case for several years now, more and more entries for environmental journalism prizes dealt specifically or at least significantly with climate change.
It wasn’t so long ago that a number of leading climate scientists felt they needed a “rapid response mechanism” to forestall flawed climate reporting before it took off like a wildfire across the nation’s and world’s news sections. The result was realclimate.org, spearheaded largely by scientists Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt.
Times have changed sufficiently that reporters now have their own brand of rapid response mechanism, throwing cold water on blistering hot, and blisteringly flawed, climate change reporting before it gets much out of the starting gate.
The example du jour is a Thanksgiving week story by the politically well-connected and well-regarded (and Washington-influential) politico.com.