This New Media Trend Will Leave You Optimistic About The Future

Alternative Media Filling In The Gaps Of Mainstream Climate Coverage


As climate change coverage has been suffering in mainstream media, alternative, web-based media sources are starting to give more attention to the issue of global warming.

On March 10, Upworthy released the findings of a poll of its readers on what topic they wanted more coverage of -- the number one answer was climate change and clean energy. This is the latest in a trend of new media sources actively working to provide more coverage of global warming, in contrast to traditional media that are providing “shockingly little” coverage to a “critically important issue.”  Meanwhile, to receive their news content Americans are turning increasingly away from papers and TV, and towards web-based sources, a term collectively known as "new media."

A paper from the Yale Forum on Climate Change & Media found that web multimedia is “poised to reshape news coverage on science and climate,” telling of a burgeoning opportunity for climate change stories -- that “the time for new media has come”:

"[Mainstream media] has been doing things the same way for so long you can't be imaginative," says Nicholson, a New York-based science journalist. As television and the Internet merge, she sees coverage taking on forms fully adapted to the possibilities of digital production. “It's going to be fast, social and everything will be mobile,” she says. “We have an opportunity to change the way we tell stories.”

So how are new media turning to the topic of climate change?


When announcing the findings of their poll calling for more climate and clean energy coverage, Upworthy simultaneously announced that they are going to partner with Climate Nexus, a nonprofit that works to communicate the impacts of climate change, to produce more stories on the topic.

Upworthy is known for "optimizing optimism" through curating content and adding irresistible headlines that will compel readers to share their stories. Climate change is often seen through a pessimistic lens -- a recent study of broadcast evening news programs found that when they did cover the issue, they often decoupled messages about the threat of climate change from messages about what can be done. Previous studies have suggested that when a message conveys a threat but not a potential action to address it, such as turning to clean energy to mitigate global warming, the message may be rejected.

This video summarizes the difference with Upworthy's approach: it starts with traditional news coverage describing the threat of climate change, and then describes what one community is doing to transition to clean energy while battling a powerful coal company.

Think the public isn't interested in climate change? The above video has 102,000 Facebook likes (more than its already high average).


On January 28, social media news website Mashable announced that it would hire Andrew Freedman as its first writer for its new “climate desk,” to write about “extreme weather as well as the science behind it,” according to Mashable's executive editor Jim Roberts. Freedman was named as the second-most “prolific” climate change writer of 2013 by the Daily Climate.

Since the announcement, Freedman has published many compelling articles on extreme, sometimes fascinating weather events, including a look at how Greenland ice melt is going to affect sea level rise, and a snow-free Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Freedman also writes about political actions designed to bring attention to and address climate change. In an interview with MashableHQ, Freedman explained why it is imperative for Mashable and other alternative media outlets to invest in climate change reporting:

Weather and climate have become such a big story for so many reasons over the past several years, yet mainstream media outlets have been cutting back on specialized science reporting. For in depth climate reporting you really need to bring in reporters who have a background in climate science and weather in order to make the information truly value-added, and it's laudable that Mashable is investing in this subject area. This just isn't a subject about which you can easily aggregate or curate your content and then call it a day.


In January, Eric Holthaus was hired to report on weather and climate. As Buzzfeed reported, the “internet meteorologist and social media fanatic” has had social media success with weather stories before the move to Slate:

The rise of the internet weatherperson has been long in the making. As a platform, the internet is a perfect home for something as universal, media-rich, and consequential as weather. And the traffic metrics appear to agree. At Quartz, where Holthaus posted weather stories before his move to Slate, his weather content “was reliably two to three times more trafficked than the average post” on the site, he told BuzzFeed.

Holthaus made headlines last fall when he pledged to never again fly on an airplane, inciting a #nofly pledge. A Rolling Stone profile showed how he takes the extra step to connect weather to climate change, which “many of his colleagues refuse to do.”

Slate is also home to the "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait, who frequently writes about climate science and criticizes those who deny the connection between human activities and global warming.


Perhaps not all new media climate coverage will be lauded by the climate science community. FiveThirtyEight, the new “data journalism” media venture spearheaded by Nate Silver, relaunched on March 17. The site promises to cover science more than the old FiveThirtyEight, and the website recently hired Roger Pielke, Jr., a political scientist who focuses on climate change impacts and policy, as a science writer. This choice may ruffle some feathers because Pielke is most known for downplaying the connection of weather extremes to climate change, and some experts have criticized his data analysis. For instance, in his most recent testimony before Congress, every one of his “Take-Home Points” focused on certain measures of extreme weather where there has been no documented increase in the United States -- even though Pielke acknowledged later in his testimony that a “considerable body of research projects that various extremes may become more frequent and/or intense in the future as a direct consequence of the human emission of carbon dioxide.” However, by downplaying that research, Pielke's statements have often been used by Republicans to deny any connections between climate change and trends in certain extreme weather events.

Furthermore, climate scientist Michael Mann has previously criticized how Nate Silver handled the subject of climate change, including that he “falls victim to the fallacy that tracking year-to-year fluctuations in temperature (the noise) can tell us something about predictions of global warming trends (the signal).” 

Gawker Media

On March 3, Gawker Media, parent company to LifeHacker, Gizmodo, and more, launched their new weather-focused site titled “The Vane.” Dennis Mersereau, contributor to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, is one of the site's first writers and has previously covered the connection of certain weather extremes, such as increasingly intense Western wildfires, to climate change.

Moreover, Gizmodo -- Gawker Media's design and technology blog -- consistently gives considerable attention to global warming, publishing articles on the science and effects of climate change, and financial and technological responses on how to act. Gizmodo's "Biggest Science Stories of 2013" included that humans were “officially blamed for climate change.”