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2010 in Review: The Year Climate Coverage ‘Fell Off The Map’

By Douglas Fischer, DailyClimate.org

Media coverage of climate change in 2010 slipped to levels not seen since 2005, after spiking 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's server..

Analysis of DailyClimate.org's archive of global media coverage shows that journalists published some 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 website'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 led the pack, publishing 1,683 stories last year – almost 4.5 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.

Analysis of nightly news coverage of global warming from 1980 to 2010 on NBC, CBS, and ABC. Credit: Robert Brulle.

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

After 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.

A television crew conducts an interview at the UN Climate Talks in Cancun, Mexico in December, 2010. US media coverage of the Cancun negotiations was sparse in comparison to the previous year's climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. Credit: UNFCCC/flickr.

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 dispersions 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.

U.S. newspaper coverage of global warming. Credit: Max Boykoff, University of Colorado.

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 Samuelson 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.

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

 

Web Resources:

Center for Science & Technology World data ; US data

 

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

Margot 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