Over 250 news outlets and journalists partnered with Columbia University School of Journalism’s flagship magazine to shape control of “climate crisis” coverage in the lead-up to the United Nations climate conference. The coverage-coordination initiative included directing how much time, space, and prominence should be devoted to the coverage, and asking that climate “news” be added to seemingly unrelated stories.
Some of the biggest media outlets in the country, such as CBS and Bloomberg, joined the effort. But others, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, declined to participate in a project they reportedly feared appeared activist in nature. More troubling, a number of the major outlets that joined did not disclose participation to their readers.
In addition to CBS and Bloomberg, the effort, called Covering Climate Now, involved BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, The Daily Beast, the Center for Public Integrity, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Slate, Vanity Fair, and The Weather Channel, among many others. BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post were among the major outlets that did not disclose the coordination. When asked by the Daily Caller News Foundation, the lack of disclosure was criticized by the Society of Professional Journalists.
The coordination effort was organized in part by Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a nonprofit that represents professional journalists and was traditionally focused primarily on journalism ethics. Covering Climate Now’s founders hope to continue elevating climate news even after the project ends. The effort’s target was the lead-up to, and coverage of, the U.N. “Climate Action Summit,” held Sept. 15-23.
BuzzFeed News reached more than 27 million unique views between September and October, according to Quantcast, a website measuring audience size. BuzzFeed is owned by Jonah Peretti, an internet entrepreneur who founded the outlet in 2006 to track viral online content, and the left-leaning HuffPo is owned by Verizon Communications. Media tycoon Arianna Huffington originally founded HuffPo in 2005 with the help of Peretti.
Covering Climate Now’s founders kicked off the project in April and announced in May that they would ask partners to devote a week to climate-related news, starting in September. The Nation environmental correspondent Mark Hertsgaard co-founded the project under the assumption that the news outlets don’t cover climate change as urgently as he thinks they should.
WaPo and others did not contribute because they believe Covering Climate Now has the “aroma” of advocacy, he complained in September.
“We believe that every news organization in America, and many around the world, can play a part,” CJR posted May 22. Sometimes that will mean committing your newsroom to important and high-impact stories. Other times it will mean sharing your content, engaging your community, or adding a few lines of climate information to stories that wouldn’t otherwise have them.”
Covering Climate Now has not responded to the DCNF’s request for comment.
Much of the group’s coverage leading up to the U.S. climate summit focused on Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl who traveled to the U.S. in August on a racing yacht. Her visit was designed to galvanize American support for policies that seek to tackle climate change.
Thunberg’s activism and Covering Climate Now’s media blitz seemed to fall flat with the crowd of United Nations diplomats: No major promises were made to tackle climate change at the summit. The European Union, for instance, didn’t go along with environmentalists’ wishes and set a goal to be carbon neutral by mid-century out of fear that such ambitions would tank its member state’s struggling economies.
“Large parts of the mainstream media have stopped pretending to strive for objectivity in their reporting,” Myron Ebell, a climate skeptic, and director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment told the DCNF. “On the climate issue, many outlets and reporters are now publicly boasting about the fact that they are promoting their own prejudices on the grounds that increasing global energy poverty is a noble cause.”
Ebell was not the only energy advocate to criticize the program. “This is nothing more than what used to be known as ‘civic journalism’ … or propaganda for the left dressed up as news reporting,” Steve Milloy, JunkScience.com publisher, told the DCNF. He also suggested the media are being hypocritical. They would thrash the fossil fuel industry if it attempted to recruit reporters in a quest to support natural gas, Milloy said.
Much Of The Content Was Not Disclosed
BuzzFeed News and HuffPost did not divulge their participation in Covering Climate Now in any of the articles they published on climate change during that week, according to a DCNF review of the project. They never mention the words “Covering Climate Now” in any of their posts during the week-long coverage leading up to the climate summit.
HuffPost did not respond to numerous requests for comment while BuzzFeed News said the partnership did not affect the …