Are the media getting the message? Mainstream media begin to cover the climate emergency – updated

Re-written on May 28 to include an article appearing in The Tyee: “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency” .


The traditional media have been criticized for their indifference to the climate change issue – recently, in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The media are complacent while the world burns”, and in The Tyee,  “Dear Journalists of Canada: Start Reporting Climate Change as an Emergency”. 

Both article refer to a  Media Matters report that only 22 of the 50 largest newspapers in the U.S. even bothered to cover the landmark IPCC Report in October 2018. The article in The Tyee is presented as an open letter to media owners and journalists, and reports the author’s own search of  Canadian Newsstream — a database which covers 569 different English language news sources – mostly newspapers, as well as national evening news broadcasts by CBC and CTV television.  Giving examples, he identifies problems of lack of climate change coverage, failure to provide local context about international stories, and failure to seek accountability in story coverage. Finally, he calls upon Canadian journalists “to do these five things: properly placecovercontextualize, and localize the biggest story of our time, and hold public and private institutions to account for their actions and inactions on climate change.”

Improvements are on the way:    The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.  has been called  “one of the best-respected and most widely used international sources of information on the crises of the climate and the natural world” by Climate Home News.  In April 2019, The Guardian became the first newspaper to publish global carbon dioxide levels on its daily weather pages, and on May 17, it announced that it has updated its internal Style Guide to better reflect the reality and depth of the climate emergency. Now, instead of using the term  “climate change” in its reports,  the preferred terms will be “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown”. Other changes:  “global heating” rather than “global warming” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate sceptic”. In its explanation, Editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner is quoted as saying:  “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

In a follow-up report by The Guardian,  the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is cited as the furthest along amongst traditional news outlets (including the New York Times and Washington Post)  in adopting The Guardian’s  language:  “Senior CBC management told staff they were able to use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” when covering the wide-ranging impacts of temperature rises around the world.”  On CBC Radio, the host of Metro Morning interviewed a spokesperson from The Guardian on this issue here (9:34 minutes audio). Although the CBC guidance is permissive rather than prescriptive, it hardly seems possible to avoid the term “climate emergency”, when  the parliaments of both the federal and the Ontario government formally debated declaring a “climate emergency” in May, and municipalities across the country have already done so (over 300 municipalities in Quebec alone).

Most recently, the Toronto Star began a new newsletter series in May, Undeniable: Canada’s Changing Climate . So far, topics have included: “Toronto’s Ninja Storm” (re the 2018 flooding) (May 21); “Life and Death Under the Dome”  (when 66 Montrealers died in a heat wave)  (May 23) ;  and “Open for Business” (May 27) (re mining in Ontario’s North) . Much more to come from The Star, which has previously collaborated with the  National Observer, Global News, the Michener Awards Foundation, the Corporate Mapping Project and four journalism schools on a special investigative series, The Price of Oil, regarding the impacts of the oil and gas industry on Canadian communities.

Finally, the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation announced a new international initiative in late April,  the Covering Climate Now project, which  aims to improve the media’s coverage of “the most  urgent story of our time” . The project  “will provide substantial resource guides for journalists, tutorials, source lists, and web briefings; we’ll gather the best of climate coverage in an online blog, and provide commentary on how other reporters can replicate it; and we will increase our own reporting on how news outlets are covering the climate crisis, highlighting what is working and calling out what isn’t.”  The first big goal: to organize a  week of concentrated climate coverage beginning September 16,  in the lead-up to the UN climate Summit in New York City on September 23. They’ll have lots to cover, now that 350.org is also organizing a one-day global strike for September 20.

 

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