Media Coverage of UN Land Report
Ceci Freed / Media Matters | Jon S via Creative Commons

Research/Study Research/Study

Majority of top newspapers in agricultural producing states fail to mention UN climate and land report on their front pages

Only seven of 20 major newspapers in top agricultural producing states featured the report on their print front pages, while none of the Sunday shows covered it

In the early hours of August 8, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report detailing climate change’s effects on land and agricultural practices. The next morning, on August 9, a majority of top newspapers in each of the top 10 agricultural producing states failed to mention this report on their front pages. Additionally, neither NBC Nightly News nor any of the Sunday political news shows discussed the report.

  • Latest IPCC report details climate change’s threat to land and food security

  • According to the new IPCC report, climate change is drastically altering the planet’s agricultural land and humankind’s ability to survive from it. Land use accounts for about 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions, and practices like deforestation and intensive farming are adding more stress to it. Fertilizer emissions have risen sharply since the 1960s, and soil is being lost at an almost unprecedented rate. Land is heating up faster than the oceans, and the consequences -- more droughts, floods, coastal erosion, and melting permafrost -- have major food security implications. Food insecurity will hit people from developing and lower-income countries the hardest.

    The IPCC has laid out a number of solutions to this crisis, including cutting food waste, adopting smarter farming methods, and protecting forests. Ultimately, the report states that humanity needs to become better stewards of its land if we want to tackle the climate crisis.

  • Majority of top newspapers in largest U.S. agricultural producing states fail to mention IPCC report on their front pages

  • Media Matters reviewed the August 9 front pages of the top two print newspapers by circulation in the each of the top 10 agricultural producing states in terms of cash receipts: California, Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Only seven major newspapers in six states featured the climate and land report on their front pages:

    • The Charlotte Observer (NC)
    • Chicago Tribune (IL)
    • The Dallas Morning News (TX)
    • The Indianapolis Star (IN)
    • Los Angeles Times (CA)
    • Star Tribune (MN)
    • Pioneer Press (MN)

    The Los Angeles Times produced excellent independent reporting on the IPCC report the day it came out, while the Star Tribune mentioned the report in an editorial the next day.

    The 13 newspapers that did not feature the climate and land report on their front pages were:

    • The Mercury News (CA)
    • The Des Moines Register (IA)
    • The Gazette (IA)
    • Houston Chronicle (TX)
    • Omaha World-Herald (NE)
    • Lincoln Journal Star (NE)
    • Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
    • The Wichita Eagle (KS)
    • Topeka Capital-Journal (KS)
    • The News & Observer (NC)
    • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
    • The Post-Crescent (WI)
    • The Times (IN)

    These findings are similar to a previous Media Matters study of newspaper homepages after an IPCC report titled “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” was released in October 2018. In that study, we found that only 22 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers mentioned the earlier IPCC report on their homepages.

  • Majority of largest newspapers across U.S. also fail to mention the report on their front pages

  • Only five of the top 15 U.S. newspapers by circulation mentioned the report on the front pages on August 9. These newspapers are:

    • Chicago Tribune* (IL)
    • The Dallas Morning News* (TX)
    • Los Angeles Times* (CA)
    • USA Today
    • The Wall Street Journal

    In addition to the Los Angeles Times, both USA Today and The Wall Street Journal produced independent pieces on the report. Both articles were published online on August 8, and then referenced on the front pages of the newspapers the next day.

    The top U.S. newspapers that did not mention the report on their front pages on August 9 included:

    • The Boston Globe
    • The Denver Post
    • Houston Chronicle* (TX)
    • Newsday
    • Daily News (NY)
    • New York Post
    • The New York Times (published a report on its front pages on August 8)
    • Tampa Bay Times
    • The Seattle Times
    • The Washington Post

    The New York Times featured the report on its front page on August 8 with good independent reporting. The Washington Post also produced good independent content on the report, but it did not feature the report on its front page on either August 8 or August 9.

  • ABC, CBS, and PBS mentioned the report on their nightly news shows, while Sunday shows did not discuss the report at all

  • On August 8, the day the IPCC report was released, broadcast television nightly news shows -- ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and PBS Newshour -- all did segments on the climate and land report. ABC’s segment was roughly 30 seconds and also included some solutions to the food security implications of the report. CBS’ segment was over two minutes long and featured national correspondent Adriana Diaz on the ground in Kansas discussing the report. PBS Newshour’s segment was the best by far. It devoted over eight minutes to discussing the report and even interviewed an expert at the nonprofit World Resources Institute on the subject.

    NBC’s Nightly News did not discuss the report on its August 8 show. The Sunday news shows — ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday — also failed to discuss the report on August 11.

    Last October, each of the four above nightly news shows did a segment on the earlier IPCC global warming report. For Sunday shows, both ABC and CBS mentioned the IPCC global warming report on their October 14, 2018, broadcasts. The drop in coverage this year is worrisome and comes in the face of more urgent and important climate change developments.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters used the Agility PR website to determine the top two newspapers by circulation in each of the top 10 biggest agricultural producing states in terms of cash receipts of U.S.-produced farm commodities. We used Agility PR to also determine the top 15 largest U.S. newspapers by circulation as of June 2019. We then used the Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages tool to search for mentions of the IPCC report in these newspapers on August 9. We used the search terms (climate OR warming OR report OR study OR food OR agriculture OR land OR ipcc) in Nexis to search for both newspaper articles and broadcast television nightly news segments about the report.

    * The newspaper is both in the list of top 15 newspapers in the U.S. by circulation and a major newspaper in a top agricultural producing state.