Climate Coverage Goes Cold


The Daily Climate recently released an interesting study on coverage of climate change. Specifically, the non-profit website that aggregates climate-related news found that coverage of the topic dropped significantly in 2011. News about the topic hit a peak in 2009, with the Copenhagen climate conference and all the anticipation that world leaders might actually make a new climate deal. That didn’t happen, and interest in the subject has waned quite a bit since then.

There was a 42 percent drop in 2011 from the high two years earlier, and a 20 percent drop from 2010, according to the Daily Climate’s count. The survey found 19,000 articles on climate change published in 2011, down from 32,400 stories in 2009. They also found a dip in television coverage. This isn’t really all that surprising; anyone who follows climate change news knows this is the case. And frankly it would be hard to conceive of how the subject will ever get as much or more attention than it did in ’09.

It seems to me, though, that Daily Climate may have missed a lot of the climate coverage out there. They surveyed only “mainstream” news outlets (which is somewhat of a subjective term), and it sounds like how they count articles as opposed to blog posts is a little fuzzy. I just did a quick survey of my own stories and blog posts in the past year. I found 34 blog posts that were entirely or partially about the topic of climate change in just the last 4 months of the year. If I count over the whole year, I guess there were only 10 articles explicitly about climate change. But that’s the nature of writing on the internet—some things go up as blog posts, some go up as articles, but that really doesn’t say much about the content itself. I’m not sure if the Daily Climate included MoJo on its list this year as it did in the 2010 survey.

The author of the report does acknowledge that determining the amount of coverage by counting the bylines of some of the most prolific environmental reporters is both an “imprecise” and “flawed” way to come up with a total, particularly when you think about the distinction between a blog post and an article. And for better or worse, the subject is being covered more in blogs than it is in newspapers or other traditional news efforts these days.

It’s also true that not all of my posts were about climate science. Some were about what politicians had to say about the topic. Some were about extreme weather and its relationship to climate change. Others were about policies that are designed to deal with climate-changing emissions, or fossil fuel projects that would generate more climate-warming emissions. It’s not clear from their report how narrowly they defined a “climate” story. (I’ve put in a request for an explanation, and I will update when I hear back.)

That said, I don’t argue with the fact that climate coverage has slipped. This is a major reason that Mother Jones and six other news organizations recently relaunched The Climate Desk. Producer James West has two new videos out already, a first on the endangered GOP climate hawk and another on the threat that climate change poses to maple syrup. Stay tuned for more!

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.