Silence of the Lambs 2: Media Herd’s Coverage of Climate Change Drops Sharply — Again

The danger posed to the nation and the world by unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases is truly the greatest story never told. JR: I’ll add my thoughts on this story at the end.

by Douglas Fischer, cross-posted from the Daily Climate

Media coverage of climate change continued to tumble in 2011, declining roughly 20 percent from 2010’s levels and nearly 42 percent from 2009’s peak, according to analysis of’s archive of global media.

The declining coverage came amid bouts of extreme weather across the globe — historic wildfires in Arizona, drought in Texas, famine in the Horn of Africa — and flashes of political frenzy. Australia’s approval of a carbon tax, the U.S. presidential election, a Congressional inquiry into the failed solar startup Solyndra all generated significant coverage within the mainstream press, but it was not enough to stem the larger trend.


“If you thought last year … was the year that media coverage collapsed, the headline this year would be ‘What coverage???’ “ said Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia.19,000 stories in 2011

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to

The decline was seen across almost all benchmarks measured by the news service: 20 percent fewer reporters covered the issue in 2011 than in 2010, 20 percent fewer outlets published stories, and the most prolific reporters on the climate change beat published 20 percent fewer stories.

Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 — half as many, according to’s archives. is a foundation-funded news service that covers climate change. The website’s data extend reliably to mid-2007. The nonprofit news service offers a daily aggregation of global “mainstream” from center-left to center-right. The aggregation is meant to provide a broad sampling of the day’s coverage, not a comprehensive list.

Broadcast down, too

Other media analysts back up the findings.

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 during 2011.


Drexel’s Brulle has been watching TV coverage on climate change since the late 1980s. The three network news stations broadcast 14 climate change stories with a total air time of 32.5 minutes in 2011, he said, down from 32 stories and 90.5 minutes last year and well below the 2007 peak of 147 segments totaling 386 minutes. “It’s an enormous drop,” he added.

Despite the downward media trend, public opinion saw a slight uptick on the issue. Last month Pew Research Center reported a “modest increase” over the past two years in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming. And 38 percent of those polled said they considered global warming a “very serious” problem, up from 32 percent last year but below the 43 percent to 45 percent who said so from 2006 through 2008.

The poll was conducted in mid-November among 2,001 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Brulle is not surprised to that public opinion on climate change has taken a similar dive as the reporting on the topic over the past two years.

“People take their cues about what’s important from what shows up in the headline of the newspaper. It doesn’t matter really what (the articles) say,” he said.

Australia’s coverage jumps

There were some exceptions to the downward trends in media coverage.

In Australia, debate over a carbon tax generated kept the issue in the news throughout the summer. The Australia Broadcasting Corp. published 60 percent more climate stories in 2011 than it did in 2010, while the Sydney Morning Herald saw a 21 percent jump.


Extreme weather was also increasingly linked to climate change. Hurricane Irene delivered a rare punch to the East Coast, reviving the debate about hurricanes and global warming. Of the 19,000 stories published in 2011, almost a quarter — reported on climate impacts. The 4,250 stories covering the consequences of climate change-represent a 10 percent increase from last year’s coverage.

But in almost every other category, the numbers were down.

Byline count

Major world outlets gave the issue less ink and air time in 2011 than in 2010: The BBC, for instance, produced some 326 pieces on climate-related issues last year, down 30 percent from 2010. The New York Times found room for 953 stories and blog posts, against 1,116 in 2010 and 1,408 in 2009. Reuters, perennially the most prolific outlet for climate news, was again the top source in 2011. But while Reuters published 1,235 stories in 2011 — more than three per day — its output was down 27 percent from last year.

The pool of most-productive climate reporters — those writing at least 30 stories a year, or about a story every 12 days — also dropped. Last year just 55 reporters cleared the bar, against 66 in 2010 and 86 in 2009.

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. And many journalists post news on blogs, a format aggregates sporadically.

But those 55 reporters accounted for 2,903 stories last year — 15 percent of the total. Fiona Harvey of the Guardian led the pack, with 132 stories. Andrew Revkin, who runs the DotEarth blog on the New York Times website, was second with 118 posts. New York Times energy and environment reporter Matthew L. Wald was third with 96 stories and posts.

Below is a list of the most prolific reporters in’s archives, with affiliation, number of stories published in 2011, and a link to their year’s work in the archives of and its sister publication,

ReporterAffiliation2011 storiesFiona HarveyGuardian132Andrew RevkinNew York Times118Matthew L. WaldNew York Times96Richard BlackBBC92Darren SamuelsohnPolitico92Nina ChestneyReuters87Bryan WalshTime Magazine84Lenore TaylorSydney Morning Herald79Alister DoyleReuters76Ariel SchwartzFast Company76Damian CarringtonGuardian75John VidalGuardian72Mike De SouzaPostmedia News68Louise GrayLondon Daily Telegraph63Jeremy HanceMongabay.com63John M. BroderNew York Times59Juliet EilperinWashington Post59Adam MortonSydney Morning Herald58David FogartyReuters57Maria GallucciInside Climate News56Suzanne GoldenbergGuardian56Thomas ContentMilwaukee Journal Sentinel54Gerard WynnReuters54Timothy GardnerReuters53David BielloScientific American52Bruce GellermanLiving on Earth47Alyson KenwardClimateCentral.org46Evan LehmannE&E News46Ben CubbySydney Morning Herald44Andrew RestucciaWashington Hill44Ben GemanWashington Hill42Justin GillisNew York Times40Elizabeth McGowanInside Climate News40Lauren MorelloE&E News40Felicity BarringerNew York Times38Sid MaherAustralian38David R. BakerSan Francisco Chronicle36Pilita ClarkFinancial Times34John Collins RudolfNew York Times34Michael MarshallNew Scientist34Arthur MaxAssociated Press34Marlowe HoodAgence France Press33Neela BanerjeeLos Angeles Times32Pete HarrisonReuters32Tiffany HsuLos Angeles Times32Fred PearceFreelance32Deborah ZabarenkoReuters32Phillip CooreySydney Morning Herald31Saqib RahimE&E News31Tom ArupSydney Morning Herald30Jean ChemnickE&E News30Andrew FreedmanClimateCentral.org30Lisa FriedmanE&E News30Darren GoodePolitico30Margot RooseveltLos Angeles Times30Correction (Jan. 3, 2012): Fiona Harvey has reported for the Guardian since mid-January, 2011. Earlier editions of this story affiliated her with her previous employer. Also, 55 reporters wrote 30 or more stories that were picked up by’s aggregation efforts. An earlier edition of this story undercounted the total.

Photos: C40 Climate Leadership Group press conference courtesy NYU-Poly. Graphic of U.S. newspaper coverage of climate change courtesy University of Colorado Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Douglas Fischer is Editor of, a foundation-funded news service covering climate change. This piece was originally published at

NOTE: What follows is by Climate Progress editor Joe Romm.

Based on my conversations with reporters, I believe this collapse is driven by editors and not reporters, many of whom, like the NYT’s Gillis, are doing a first-rate job and would no doubt do more pieces if their editors would allow them. This view is supported by the fact that nation’s editorial boards have even more sharply cut their pieces, as noted above.

A former correspondent and editor explained on Climate Progress the expected drop in BBC’s climate coverage in 2011 this way:

I heard from a former BBC producer colleague internal editorial discussions now under way at the BBC on planning next year’s news agenda have in fact explicitly parked climate change in the category “Done That Already, Nothing New to Say.”

No, I suppose there is nothing new to say. As I wrote last month, the continued self-destructive failure of the nation and the world to reverse greenhouse gas emission trends deserves to be the top story pretty much every year — and how boring is that?!

Still, you’d think the record-smashing extreme weather and its severe consequences would merit more coverage — particularly since climate scientists have been predicting for decades that we would see more brutal heat waves, deluges and droughts:

But, of course, that would presuppose that the media is willing to connect the dots between warming-driven extreme weather and manmade warming (see NY Times Asks Why “Horrible” U.S. Drought “Has Come on Extra Hot and Extra Early.” Their Answer is … La Niña, Of Course!).

Indeed, not only is coverage declining, but much of the coverage we do see is deeply flawed, as I discussed in last year’s post on the declining coverage — Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010. I’ll have more on that in a separate post.

I’d end by noting that the actual decline in big media coverage of climate may be worse than the numbers above suggest. After all, whatever you think of Revkin’s reporting, the readership of a blog — even one occasionally featured on the NYT’s website — simply doesn’t compare with the readership of an actual print Times story (that is also posted online). But Daily Climate counts each of his prolific postings as equivalent to an actual article published by a major newspaper.

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