As Earth's temperature rises, news media coverage of climate change falls

by Jessica Weiss
Jan 27, 2014 in Specialized Topics

Scientists issue dire warnings about it. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon calls it the “greatest challenge facing humanity."

But to read major newspapers in the U.S.--the country that contributes the most to global warming--you might think climate change isn't as newsworthy as it used to be.

University of Colorado professor Max Boykoff has tracked climate coverage in the top U.S. newspapers—The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post—since 2000. Coverage dropped across the board in 2013, his research shows.

The New York Times had the steepest decline. The number of stories in which the words “global warming” or “climate change” appeared dropped more than 40 percent over the previous year.

And television news isn't picking up the slack. Drexel University sociology professor Robert Brulle, found that U.S. television coverage of climate change on major nightly news programs was at almost exactly the same level in 2013 as it was in 2012.

Coverage around the world is driven by politics rather than science, a team of researchers from the universities of Hamburg and Zurich found. Their research addressed the climate change coverage question by analyzing the amount of news devoted to climate change in relation to other topics covered by mass media outlets. They looked at newspapers from 27 countries and all continents, including industrialized countries, emerging economies and developing nations.

"Overall, the results suggest that news media coverage of climate change is driven by politics rather than by weather and climate factors, or by the knowledge production of climate science," the European Journalism Observatory reports.

Climate change topped the list of “neglected topics” readers sent New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof when he asked what issues the news media should cover more aggressively in 2014.

Some 1,300 readers recommended a broad range of issues, and “many made a particularly compelling case for climate change,” Kristof wrote. “We need to focus more on climate change, and perhaps that can help nudge our political system out of paralysis to take protective action to reduce the threat to the only planet we have.”

What is the state of climate change coverage in your country? Do you think the news media are covering climate change enough, too much or too little? Let us know in the comments.

Jessica Weiss, a former IJNet managing editor, is a Buenos Aires-based freelancer.

Image courtesy of Flickr user HelloImNik under a Creative Commons license.