In most of the outlets represented by these reporters, climate change coverage has seen a dramatic reduction in terms of copy and broadcast minutes, at least during the autumn period when these events take place. Additionally, the lack of interest by editors in climate negotiations has been accompanied by less interest in the subject of climate change in general during the rest of the year.
Six of the seven interviewees also indicated they used different sources from those they used when they attended. They relied on news agencies and phone calls, mainly to national speakers, as the main sources for their stories; in contrast, when they went to the summit, they could draw on a wider variety of international sources. Furthermore, they made limited use of new media to gather information about what was happening at the summits. None of them used citizen journalism to glean what was going on in Durban, and less than a half followed Twitter for that purpose.
It is “beyond doubt” for the majority of these journalists that reporting about these events from afar meant less accuracy; lack of understanding of the complex negotiations; poorer contextualization; a lack of atmosphere; fewer human stories; and as a result, all agreed that the quality of their stories was seriously affected by not being where the news was happening.
There was a general consensus among these reporters that environment journalists have some responsibility for climate change not being treated with the same urgency in European mainstream media after Copenhagen. They feel that some of their stories were too alarmist and more focused on potentially devastating consequences rather than possible local solutions; that in most cases they overreacted to ‘Climategate’; that too much space was given to climate sceptics; or that they did not appropriately balance the opinions given by scientists and politicians—leaving their audience unclear as to which had more weight or merit.
However, it is worth considering that in this new European media era where outlets generally use a new notion of news defined more by immediacy and the hour of the day, complex issues that require relentlessly regular coverage over long periods face an even greater challenge.
None of the climate journalists I have talked to believe that a difference in climate change will emerge from a global forum like a UN summit, but more likely from action at the local level. However, media presence in the places where decisions are taken seems necessary to help maintain pressure on governments and to engage citizens already suffering ‘climate fatigue’ after years of communication failure from journalists, politicians, scientists, and environmentalists around this immensely challenging issue that is the future of the planet.