—Twitter (a relative newbie in 2007) lit up with the #IPCC hashtag. Climate scientist Piers Forster of the University of Leeds tweeted the entire list of the IPCC “headline statements” one by one (later Storified). And, before the report was even released, an orchestrated Twitter environment campaign (automated through an activist portal called Avaaz.org) urged major news outlets, such as The New York Times, CNN, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and the Economist, to pay attention: “@JillAbramson @nytimes Put the #IPCC report as front page news! Climate change is real and urgent #telltheclimatetruth”
—Also, more prominent this time around were a number of nonprofit news and communication organizations. Funded largely by foundations, many have been set up in recent years to improve coverage of climate science and policy, noted veteran IPCC reporter and New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin. They include Inside Climate News and Climate Central, a respected independent organization of scientists and journalists set up in 2008 to provide reliable climate information for the public.
Despite the global online rollout, the IPCC release early Friday still relied upon on-the-scene reporting by traditional media outlets. Seasoned Reuters environment correspondent Alister Doyle said by email that he “spent a large part of the final night in Stockholm freezing on the sidewalk outside the building” because they would not let reporters even wait in the lobby. The IPCC press office did set up an advance two-hour “lockdown”—cut to an hour because the report was not ready—so accredited reporters there on deadline could see the documents before their official release and get a head start on their stories.
Overall, some of the most extensive—and urgent—coverage last week came from across the pond. The Guardian did an extensive online IPCC package, with a lead story from correspondent Fiona Harvey in Stockholm (headlined “IPCC: 30 years to climate calamity if we carry on blowing the carbon budget”), a live blog of the report’s release, interactives, video, Q&As, and a “climate report by the numbers.” In contrast, the New York Times story from Justin Gillis in Stockholm, headlined “U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Carbon Emissions,” took a far more even-handed approach. Sadly, the Washington Post did not even send reporter Darryl Fears to Stockholm.
On Friday morning, the IPCC report got prominent display on many news websites. But as so often happens with science and environment stories, more competitive national and international news pushed it down in website queues and subsequent print and television coverage. In this case, several blockbusters dominated the news cycle starting Friday afternoon, including the US congressional budget impasse and impending government shutdown, as well as President Obama’s historic phone call with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani.
With round one of this cycle of IPCC reports largely finished, few reporters will likely have the time—or expertise—to peruse the mighty 2,500-page draft volume made public today (although some media warriors may buck the short-is-better trend and find fodder for longer take-outs in sections such as the Atlas of Global and Regional Climate Projections).
The next round of the IPCC’s fifth assessment takes place in late March 2014, in Yokohama, Japan, when the UN body gathers to review the report on “impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.”