USA TODAY's Climate Change Series Comes At A Critical Time

USA TODAY cover via NewseumUSA TODAY announced in its cover story today that it will be doing a year-long series on climate change, sending reporters around the U.S. to examine how climate change is already affecting Americans. The series, “Weathering The Change,” comes at a time when climate change coverage -- including at USA TODAY -- has been relatively low in the U.S. 

USA TODAY covered climate change the least of the major national newspapers in the context of the 2012 presidential election. It entirely ignored how climate change has worsened fire risks in the Western U.S. in its print coverage of the destructive 2012 wildfires. It only mentioned ocean acidification once between January 2011 and June 2012, and ignored a study that found that the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50 percent in the past 27 years largely due to human activities. And it closed its green blog in September 2012.

The ongoing decline in climate coverage may be influencing public opinion, as research suggests that volume of media coverage has a large impact on what people considerpolicy priorities. This week, conservative media celebrated “Public Concern For Global Warming Hit[ting A] 20-Year Low.” Once again demonstrating their inability to fact-check, they got the details wrong -- the survey actually found that global warming is the only environmental issue where concern is higher now than it was from 1998 to 2003. But concern about global warming is still lower than it was before the financial crisis.

A climate series by USA TODAY, the No. 2 newspaper in the U.S., may be one step toward reversing this trend.

Globe Scan Survey

It is a promising sign that USA TODAY's new series will be conducted by science reporter Dan Vergano, who won a prestigious journalism award for a 2005 cover story on climate change, weather reporter Doyle Rice, who has reported on the connections between climate change and extreme weather, and environment reporter Wendy Koch, who specializes in climate change and other environmental issues. As Vergano noted in a live chat on the upcoming series, specialized reporters are less likely to fall victim to “false balance”: