2010 in review: The year climate coverage 'fell off the map.'

press

Journalists at a press conference during the United Nations climate talks in Cancun in December. The number of media stories on climate change were down considerably in 2010. Photo courtesy United Nations/flickr.

3 January 2011

After spiking upward in response to Copenhagen talks and the 'climategate' uproar, media coverage of climate change plummeted to levels last seen in 2005, according to DailyClimate.org's archives and other media databases

Correction appended

By Douglas Fischer

Daily Climate editor

Media coverage of climate change in 2010 slipped to levels not seen since 2005, after spiking in in late 2009 in the run-up to the much-hyped United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen and the release of private emails from climate scientists stored on a English university server..

Analysis of DailyClimate.org's archive of global media coverage shows that journalists published 23,156 climate-related stories in English last year - a 30 percent drop from '09's tally.

Those stories came from 8,710 different reporters, columnists and editorial writers at 1,552 different media outlets. Last year, according to the Web site's database, more than 11,000 reporters tackled the subject – a 22 percent drop for 2010.

Despite the trend, some outlets and reporters remain prolific. Reuters again lead the pack, publishing 1,683 stories last year - 4.6 stories a day. The New York Times had 1,116; the London Guardian, 941; the Associated Press, 793.

But for network news and other mainstream outlets, the trend was down, down, down.

Brulle-TVdataDrexel University professor Robert Brulle has analyzed nightly network news since the 1980s. Last year's climate coverage was so miniscule, he said, that he's doubting his data.

"I can't believe it's this little. In the U.S., it's just gone off the map," he said. "It's pretty clear we're back to 2004, 2005 levels."

Coverage of December's United Nations climate talks in Cancun is Exhibit A: Total meeting coverage  by the networks consisted of one 10-second clip, Brulle said. By contrast, 2009's Copenhagen talks generated 32 stories totaling 98 minutes of airtime. "I'm trying to check it again and again," Brulle said of the 2010 data. "It's so little, it's stunning."

Overall, based on preliminary data, the networks aired 32 stories on climate change last year, compared to 84 in 2009 and 144 in 2007, when former Vice President Al Gore released his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a key assessment on climate change. The two shared the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

"The cycle of media interest in climate change has run its course, and this story is no longer considered newsworthy," Brulle said.

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, which has tracked media coverage of climate change since 2000, finds a similar slide in five major U.S. newspapers.

US-NovAfter spiking to more than 450 articles in December 2009 - almost equal to the 2007 peak - coverage dropped precipitously in early 2010, falling to levels last seen in late 2005.

DailyClimate.org's archives extend reliably only to 2007. Year-to-year comparison shows a steep decrease in 2010 climate coverage for many of the world's major media outlets - off 51 percent in Toronto's Globe & Mail, 44 percent in the Wall Street Journal, 21 percent in the New York Times, 33 percent in the London Guardian, based on DailyClimate.org's database.

That, perhaps, is not unexpected given the hype leading up to the Copenhagen talks and the frenzy created by the e-mail release in late 2009.

The Copenhagen meeting drew heads of state from nearly 200 nations, including President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian President Manmohan Singh. It ended in chaos, with the body able only to "take note" of a slim agreement that climate change is a problem and that deep cuts in global warming are necessary.

The so-called "climategate" scandal proved similarly flashy: hundreds of e-mails, pilfered from a server at the University of East Anglia, from climate scientists supposedly discussing "tricks" to make their data fit and casting aspersions on critics. Yet half a dozen investigations by various governments and universities failed to find evidence of serious wrong-doing or tainted science.

But while the climate story may have fallen from the mainstream media's headlines over the course of 2009, a handful of outlets paid increased attention to the issue in 2010. 

New York-based Bloomberg News was a notable exception, one of the only major outlets to churn out more climate stories in 2010, jumping to 332 pieces last year versus 270 in '09. 

E&E News, publisher of ClimateWire and GreenWire, also saw increased coverage, as did ABC News in Australia and the Edinburgh Scotsman.

And there remain a cadre of dedicated reporters churning out stories: DailyClimate's archives show 66 reporters wrote more than 30 stories apiece over the course of the year.

Of course, byline counts are an imprecise - and flawed - way to measure a journalist's productivity. A ground-breaking investigation often requires weeks or even months of research and reporting. 

But those 66 reporters accounted for 3450 stories last year - 15 percent of the total. Andy Revkin, the former New York Times reporter who now runs the paper's DotEarth blog, lead the list with 145 posts and stories. Politico's Darren Samuelsohn was second with 129 articles, followed by the Daily Telegraph's Louise Gray with 119 and Reuter's Alister Doyle with 108.

Below is a list of the most prolific 50, with affiliation and number of stories in Daily Climate's archives.

Daily Climate aggregates mainstream news from around the world seven days a week. A team of about 40 researchers and editors working for the Web site's publisher, Environmental Health Sciences, searches the Web evening and morning using specific criteria. The aim is not to capture every story on the topic, but a broad sample.

 

Reporter Affiliation '10 stories
Andrew Revkin New York Times 146
Darren Samuelsohn Politico 130
Louise Gray London Daily Telegraph 119
Alister Doyle  Reuters  108 
Robin Bravender  Politico 85 
Suzanne Goldenberg  London Guardian  81 
Matthew L. Wald  New York Times  81 
Todd Woody  New York Times  81 
Mike De Souza  Postmedia News 77
Timothy Gardner  Reuters 74 
 John M. Broder New York Times  74 
Richard Black  BBC  71 
John Vidal  London Guardian  71
David Biello  Scientific American  69 
Margo Roosevelt  Los Angeles Times  68 
John Collins Rudolf New York Times 68 
Fiona Harvey Financial Times  65 
James Murray  Business Green 65 
Fred Pearce Freelance  64 
Jenny Fyall  Scotsman 62
Bryan Walsh  Time 59 
Richard Cowan  Reuters 55 
Jeremy Hance Mongabay.com 55 
Juliet Eilperin  Washington Post 51
Adianto P. Simamora Jakarta Post 51 
Tom Arup  Sydney Morning Herald 50 
Adam Morton  Sydney Morning Herald 50
Nina Chestney  Reuters 48 
Ben Webster London Times 47 
Tiffany Hsu Los Angeles Times 46
Michael D. Lemonick ClimateCentral.org 46 
Pete Harrison Reuters 45
Ariel Schwartz Fast Company 44 
James Kanter New York Times 44 
Evan Lehmann E&E News 43 
Rick Daysog Sacramento Bee  43 
David Fogarty Reuters  42 
Ben Cubby Sydney Morning Herald 41 
David Adam London Guardian 40 
Juliette Jowit London Guardian  40 
Jeff Young Living On Earth 39 
Lenore Taylor Sydney Morning Herald 38 
Kate Sheppard Mother Jones  38 
Thomas Content Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 36 
Eli Kintisch Science  36 
Peter Behr E&E News 35 
Tyler Hamilton Toronto Star 35 
Terry Macalister London Guardian 35 
Jim Tankersley Chicago Tribune 34 
Lisa Friedman E&E News 34 
 Anne C. Mulkern E&E News 34

 

Correction (Jan 4, 2011): Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn was misidentified in earlier version of this story.

Network news data courtesy Robert Brulle, Drexel University. A larger version of the graphic can be found here.

Newspaper data courtesy Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado, Boulder.

DailyClimate.org is a nonprofit news service covering climate change.

 

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