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REPORT: Reuters' Climate Coverage Continues To Decline Under “Skeptic” Editor

Even With Major Climate Reports, Climate Coverage Cut In Half

Reuters' climate coverage has continued to drop significantly under the regime of its new “skeptic” editor, with less than half the amount of climate coverage compared to before the editor took over, according to a Media Matters study. This finding comes despite two major reports on climate science that occurred during this period, suggesting that the paper's “climate of fear” may have persisted.

  • Reuters' Climate Coverage Drops After “Skeptic” Becomes Managing Editor

    Former Reporter: “Skeptic” Editor Ingrassia Created A “Climate Of Fear” In The Newsroom. In July 2013, former Reuters Asia climate change correspondent David Fogarty revealed that when Paul Ingrassia --  a self-identified “climate change sceptic” -- took over as deputy editor-in-chief, a“climate of fear” surrounding climate change coverage followed. From Fogarty's blog at the Reuters-centered website The Baron:

    From very early in 2012, I was repeatedly told that climate and environment stories were no longer a top priority for Reuters and I was asked to look at other areas. Being stubborn, and passionate about my climate change beat, I largely ignored the directive.

    It was a strange repositioning of editorial focus for Asia, which has some of the world's top polluters and some of the greatest environmental challenges taxing economies and governments.

    In April last year, Paul Ingrassia (then deputy editor-in-chief) and I met and had a chat at a company function. He told me he was a climate change sceptic. Not a rabid sceptic, just someone who wanted to see more evidence mankind was changing the global climate.

    Progressively, getting any climate change-themed story published got harder. It was a lottery. Some desk editors happily subbed and pushed the button. Others agonised and asked a million questions. Debate on some story ideas generated endless bureaucracy by editors frightened to take a decision, reflecting a different type of climate within Reuters - the climate of fear.

    By mid-October, I was informed that climate change just wasn't a big story for the present, but that it would be if there was a significant shift in global policy, such as the US introducing an emissions cap-and-trade system.

    Very soon after that conversation I was told my climate change role was abolished. I was asked to take over the regional shipping role and that I had less than a week to decide.

    I decided it was time to leave.

    By far one of the most bizarre climate e-mail exchanges occurred on 30 October regarding Hurricane Sandy. I offered to kick-off a story from Asia leading on the storm's impact on public opinion on climate change, given it occurred a week before presidential elections and was the type of storm climate scientists say we should expect as the planet warms. There was a huge amount of commentary to draw on from other media and commentators.

    A senior Top News editor in Asia shot down the idea saying “climate change is one of those topics that can get people's backs up”. Michael Stott, the Europe, Middle East and Africa regional editor in London, in turn, shot down that editor's view and urged the story to be written, saying: “Many other media will follow this trail - it's an obvious angle and one we should explore”.

    Reuters in the US did the story, about 48 hours later than everyone else, despite reporters there itching to get a story out sooner.

    Since I've left, I've lost count of the number of people who have asked me why Reuters' climate change coverage has changed in tone and fallen in volume. [The Baron, 7/15/13]

    Since Ingrassia's Promotion To Managing Editor, Reuters' Climate Coverage Has Decreased Further. Media Matters analysis released on July 23, 2013, supported Fogarty's suspicions, finding that Reuters reported on climate change almost twice as much before Ingrassia became deputy editor-in-chief. Since Ingrassia became managing editor in February 2013, Reuters' climate coverage has only worsened according to an analysis of the six-month period following our initial study. From July 24, 2013, to January 24, 2014, Reuters published 221 articles and 103 mentions about climate change, for a total of 324 stories. This is an 8 percent drop from 353 stories during an equivalent time period under the “skeptic” editor's regime (which saw 353 total stories), and a more than 50 percent decrease from an equivalent time period before Ingrassia took over (675 total stories).

    Reuters Climate Change Coverage

    Just under half of Reuters' coverage (44 percent) was focused on policy -- a decrease from our previous study (63 percent) -- and coverage focused on science increased slightly from 12 percent to 14 percent. The articles quoted primarily politicians and government officials (45 percent of the time) -- similar to the previous study (41 percent) -- but their usage of scientists increased slightly to 19 percent of the time from 12 percent. [Media Matters7/23/13] [University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2/4/13]

    Reuters Still Uses False Balance On Occasion

    CJR: Reuters Reporters Felt Pressure To Provide False Balance.  The Columbia Journalism Review reported that several Reuters reporters “felt pressure from management to add 'balance' to climate change stories by including the views of global-warming skeptics”:

    It's worth noting that most newsrooms around the country have reduced coverage of climate change-related issues since 2010. In 2011, Environment & Energy Publishing, which produces Greenwire, ClimateWire, and four other news services, estimated they reduced climate coverage by about 13 percent. According to an assessment published by The Daily Climate, The New York Times cut its global warming article count by 15 percent, and the Guardian slashed coverage by 21 percent that same year. (Reuters, too, dropped its climate coverage by 27 percent in 2011, before Ingrassia came aboard.)

    But rumblings in the Reuters newsroom signal that the most recent dip in climate coverage is accompanied by a shift in editorial angle. I spoke on background to several journalists working at Reuters, who said that since Ingrassia was hired, they've felt pressure from management to add “balance” to climate change stories by including the views of global-warming skeptics. “I'm really glad someone outside the company is looking into this,” said one staffer who did not wish to be identified. “I think this is the most worrying thing any of us have seen here.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/26/13]

    • Reuters Articles Have Added “Skeptic” Modifiers On Whether Climate Change Is Manmade. On February 16, for instance, Reuters published an article on John Kerry's comments calling man-made climate change “perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Reporter Mohammed added a qualifying “skeptic” statement, that global warming might be “due to natural variability or other non-human factors”:

    The global scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said it is at least 95 percent probable that human activities, led by the burning of fossil fuels, are the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s.

    However, some skeptics argue that a rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors.

    The fact that temperatures have risen more slowly in the past 15 years despite a continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions has also emboldened those who question the need for urgent action. [Reuters, 2/16/14]

    Reuters' Decline In Coverage Came Despite Major IPCC Report. On September 27, 2013, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the state of climate science, finding that humans are the “dominant cause” of “unequivocal” climate change, with the same certainty that cigarettes can kill. The IPCC releases Assessment Reports once every five to seven years, yet even in including coverage of this major report, Reuters' climate coverage continued to decline. A Media Matters analysis of the report's media coverage found that Reuters mentioned the alleged “slowdown” in global warming in 42 percent of its stories, a misleading factoid that has been been wrongly seized on by “skeptics” to cast doubt on global warming. And the news agency helped provide widespread attention to prominent “skeptic” Bjorn Lomborg*. [Media Matters, 10/10/13]

    CJR: Reuters Gave “Ambivalent” Coverage To “New Normal” Of Climate Change. The American Meteorological Society released their “State of the Climate” report in August, detailing a “new climate 'normal' ” in 2012. The Columbia Journalism Review reported that the findings received “surprisingly limited analysis” given “the importance of the information,” including Reuters, which just provided a “short summary” that included a “skeptical insertion”: 

    On Tuesday, the American Meteorological Society released its annual “State of the Climate” report, a hefty, 258-page document chronicling changes in global warming data. Compiled by members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with 384 scientists from 52 countries, the report is used to set and influence domestic climate policy and distributes statistics that form the baseline for discussions of climate change.

    This year's report holds a wide roster of data--ranging from interesting to doomsday--and most major newspapers and wire serves at least ran something based on the report press release. But considering the importance, and acute detail, of the information contained in the release, the mainstream press provided a surprisingly limited amount of analysis.

    Reuters filed a short summary, “Signs of new climate 'normal' apparent in hot 2012 report,” culling information entirely from NOAA's press release, with one skeptical insertion framing the slowing surface temperature rise: “The decrease in temperatures has been noted by climate-change skeptics who question the impact of human activities.” [Columbia Journalism Review8/12/13]

    *Language updated for clarity.

    Shauna Theel and Gabriel Marcus contributed to this report.